Metabolic Syndrome: What You Need to Know

OECD Country Populations with a BMI > 30 (1996-2003)

People with metabolic syndrome are twice as likely to develop heart disease, and five times as likely to develop diabetes, as those who don't have metabolic syndrome. But many people are not yet familiar with this relatively new term. Do you know what metabolic syndrome is?

Metabolic syndrome is the combination of several medical problems associated with morbid obesity. In addition to obesity, these conditions include:

  • high blood pressure
  • glucose intolerance/insulin resistance
  • excess body fat
  • high cholesterol

According to Marc Bessler, MD, Chief of the Center for Metabolic and Weight Loss Surgery, "Patients don't necessarily have to have all of the above conditions, but when three or more occur together, the association of these problems is called metabolic syndrome." Identifying metabolic syndrome is important because the syndrome increases the risk for cardiovascular disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, kidney disease, and other problems. The goal of treatment is to reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes.

As a leader in the field of bariatric surgery, the Center for Metabolic and Weight Loss Surgery has long observed that surgery for weight loss (gastric bypass surgery) is highly effective in resolving diabetes among patients who have a body mass index (BMI) of 35 and above: over 80% of patients who have gastric bypass surgery see their diabetes go into remission. "This dramatic effect on diabetes occurs within a matter of days and does not depend on weight loss," according to Dr. Bessler. "Although we do not yet know what the underlying mechanisms are for this effect, we know that operating on patients with these diseases causes a significant improvement in metabolic problems. We believe gut hormones play an integral role in this process and that a change in this milieu accounts for the results that are seen clinically."

Based on those observations, the Center is now studying the effect of weight loss surgery among patients with diabetes and BMI between 30-35. "By performing metabolic surgery, we hope to reverse these conditions to improve quality of life and decrease long-term effects and complications," explains Dr. Bessler. Because it is not known how surgery might affect patients at lower body weight in the long term, or what other complications might occur, this is being carefully studied in the setting of a trial. At this time, select patients with BMI between 30-35 may be eligible for participation in the Diabetes Surgery Study, which is currently underway at three sites in the U.S. and in Taiwan.

For more information about weight loss surgery, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome, visit the Center for Metabolic and Weight Loss Surgery.