Almost one in three adults in India suffers from metabolic syndrome and its prevalence is higher in women than men, according to studies. Doctors say that the syndrome puts a person at high risk of developing diabetes, heart disease and stroke.
Women have a greater rate of obesity and lower HDL [high-density lipoprotein or the ‘good’ cholesterol] levels than men, which are major contributing factors in the recent growth of metabolic syndrome in women, said Dr Aditya S Chowti, senior consultant, internal medicine, Fortis Hospital, Bengaluru. He said though women’s body distribution of fat is more protective against metabolic syndrome than men’s, the incidence of obesity and body distribution of fat in postmenopausal women is like men’s, contributing to the current rise.
Dr Sameer S Bhate, consultant, cardiovascular and thoracic surgery, and heart and lung transplant surgeon, Sparsh Group of Hospitals, said metabolic syndrome is a group of conditions that can lead to heart disease, diabetes, stroke and other health problems. “It is diagnosed by the presence of high blood sugar levels, low levels of HDL, high levels of triglycerides [fat in the blood], large waist circumference (that is classically called an apple-shaped body) and, lastly, high blood pressure,” he said. “When three or more factors of the above are present, it is considered as metabolic syndrome.”
Dr Bhate said that with many people leading a sedentary lifestyle nowadays, metabolic syndrome is commonly seen among people who have a large abdominal circumference, especially among youngsters. “At Sparsh, we have also noticed that the age group for bypass surgery has seen a shift,” he said. “Previously, bypass surgery was done on people who were more than 60 years old. Nowadays, we see more and more patients who are in their forties need bypass surgeries. Due to metabolic syndrome, a person might be at the risk of getting fatal heart attacks. There are many examples of youngsters who have had untimely death, especially those who are not fit. Metabolic syndrome leads to a build-up of plaque in arteries which can lead to coronary artery disease. It can also lead to build up of plaque in the arteries that supply blood to the legs, which may lead to peripheral artery disease.”
A meta-analysis, ‘Prevalence of metabolic syndrome among adult population in India: A systematic review and meta-analysis’, published by the Public Library of Science (PLOS ONE), analysed 113 data from 111 studies with 133,926 participants. “Gender distribution of MS [metabolic syndrome] showed that the females had a higher prevalence (35%) when compared to males (26%),” it said.
Who’s at risk?
Dr Chowti said that patients in the 50-55-year-old age range, as well as those with high blood pressures, dyslipidemia, a sedentary lifestyle, a history of cardiovascular disease, diabetes mellitus and insulin resistance are considered high-risk. “As the adage goes, prevention is better than cure,” he said. “Preventing childhood obesity must be prioritised. To achieve that schools should incorporate proper physical training as well as physical games and activities. Screening of children who are having difficulties maintaining a healthy body weight must begin as soon as possible to identify, assist and train the high-risk group. Regular cholesterol and blood sugar testing are recommended for patients who have previously developed risk factors so that appropriate medication and lifestyle changes can be implemented early on.”
Dr Bhate said metabolic syndrome can be rectified by losing weight, following a healthy diet, increasing physical activity, and monitoring blood sugar, blood glucose, blood cholesterol and blood pressure. “People with high blood pressure may start getting frequent headaches, and some might notice an increase in their waist circumference and start noticing signs of being overweight and unfit,” he said. “Furthermore, your blood test may show an increase in your cholesterol levels, lipid profile and glycosylated hemoglobin (sugar in blood).”
Dr Bhate said the treatment is multifactorial and a lot of it is about self-care. Weight loss, exercise, healthy diet and cessation of smoking are some of the preventive measures.