Metabolic syndrome: a little-known serious health concern

crutchfieldsquareDear Dr. Crutchfield: My brother told me his doctor told him that he had something called “metabolic syndrome.” What exactly is metabolic syndrome?






Metabolic syndrome is not actually a specific disease. It represents a group of four risk factors that include:

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • High blood sugar levels
  • Increased tummy fat, especially in the mid-section

advice-16Individually, any of these can be associated with health concerns, but when they occur together, they act synergistically, that is, they dramatically increase adverse health outcomes and the occurrence of certain diseases, more so than in just an additive manner. In fact, the risk for cardiovascular disease, heart attacks, strokes and diabetes can increase as much as two- to five-fold when these four conditions occur together, as in many Americans they do.

According to the American Heart Association, metabolic syndrome affects about 50 million Americans. That is about one in every six adults. Metabolic syndrome is more common in families and occurs more commonly in African Americans, Asians, Native Americans, and Hispanics.

Experts also postulate that metabolic syndrome, in addition to the known negative health consequences listed above, may also be involved in the promotion of dementia, liver disease, polycystic ovarian syndrome, and some forms of cancer. The risk of developing metabolic syndrome increases as one ages.

Doctors have really started to notice the serious long-term effects of metabolic syndrome for the past 20 years. It is a very common health concern, but very few people have heard about it or know about it. Early on, it was called “Syndrome X.” We now call it metabolic syndrome.


The diagnosis can be made, by a doctor, if one has three of the following five conditions:

  • Large waist size
  • High triglycerides
  • Low “good” cholesterol (HDL)
  • High blood pressure
  • High fasting blood glucose (sugar) levels

Risk factors

Because metabolic syndrome is a set of conditions, there can be many causes and risk factors. These include but are not limited to:

  • Family history
  • Insulin resistance
  • Obesity
  • Hormonal problems
  • A lifestyle that is unhealthy: poor eating (increased fast foods) and lack of regular exercise


If you are diagnosed with metabolic syndrome, it might appear very concerning. The great news is that metabolic syndrome can be managed very well with positive lifestyle changes. Consider the diagnosis a free, advanced warning, so you can get motivated to make positive changes in your health now.

Talk to your doctor and develop a plan to eat healthy, increase regular activity and exercise, and manage weight, high blood sugar, high cholesterol and high blood pressure.

Remember, Rome was not built in a day, and you can’t change all these things in a day either. But plan your work, and work your plan. Over months to years, simple habit changes now can add up and prevent serious health problems in the future.


Charles E. Crutchfield III, MD is a board certified dermatologist and Clinical Professor of Dermatology at the University of Minnesota Medical School. He also has a private practice in Eagan, MN. He received his M.D. and Master’s Degree in Molecular Biology and Genomics from the Mayo Clinic. He has been selected as one of the top 10 dermatologists in the United States by Black Enterprise magazine. Dr. Crutchfield was recognized by Minnesota Medicine as one of the 100 Most Influential Healthcare Leaders in Minnesota. He is the team dermatologist for the Minnesota Twins, Vikings, Timberwolves, Wild and Lynx. Dr. Crutchfield is an active member of both the American and National Medical Associations.