IntroductionMetabolic Syndrome, or Syndrome X, is a grouping of risk factors which commonly occur together and increase ones risk for cardiovascular disease. Due to its link to obesity and insulin resistance, women with PCOS are at an increased risk for this cluster of conditions. Its prevalence has dramatically increased in the United States, now affecting almost 50 million people.
The term ‘metabolic’ refers to the series of processes which affect how the body functions day to day. The most common metabolic changes associated with this syndrome include the following:
- Increased abdominal weight
- High levels of triglycerides.
- Low levels of good cholesterol, or HDL
- High blood pressure
- High fasting blood sugar
DiagnosisAccording to the National Cholesterol Education Program, diagnosis of metabolic syndrome can be made when any 3 of the above risk factors are present. Also, keep in mind that even if you are taking medication for any of those conditions, they count as risk factors. This is why your doctor may want to monitor your cholesterol, fasting blood sugar and blood pressure after you’ve been diagnosed with PCOS.
Risk FactorsIn addition to the above diagnostic characteristics of metabolic syndrome, simply having PCOS can put you at a higher risk for developing this disease due to the prevalence of insulin resistance and obesity. Two other conditions are commonly seen in PCOS, although physicians don’t know the exact relationship with metabolic syndrome: a predisposition to developing blood clots, and a consistent state of inflammation throughout the body. This inflammation is started by the body's response to a foreign object which then may spread to other body tissues. Being diagnosed with metabolic syndrome increases your risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes. That's why it is important to talk to your healthcare provider about your risk of developing metabolic syndrome.
Treatment/PreventionThe most important thing you can do to prevent this diseases, or any of the risk factors, is to maintain a healthy weight through diet and exercise. By eating a diet low in saturated fat, most times one can effectively lower or manage high cholesterol. Lowering your sodium or salt intake can also lower blood pressure. Reducing the amount of simple sugars that you consume can help reduce the risk of insulin resistance. Of course, remember to eat plenty of heart healthy fruits, vegetables, lean protein and whole grains. Exercise is a great way to burn stress and extra calories, in addition to building muscle.
Sometimes consistent diet and exercise alone are not sufficient to manage some of these issues. If this is the case, your doctor may choose to put you on medication to lower cholesterol or blood pressure. Even if medication is required, it is still imperative to consistently follow a healthy diet and exercise plan.
ATP III Guidelines At-A-Glance Quick Desk Reference. National Cholesterol Education Program. May 2001. National Institute of Health. 7 December 2007.
Metabolic Syndrome. National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. April 2007. National Institute of Health. 7 December 2007.