The exact cause of metabolic syndrome is not known. Many features of the metabolic syndrome are associated with "insulin resistance." Insulin resistance means that the body does not use insulin efficiently to lower glucose and triglyceride levels. Insulin resistance is a combination of genetic and lifestyle factors. Lifestyle factors include diet, activity and perhaps interrupted sleep patterns (such as sleep apnea).
The primary problem in metabolic syndrome is insulin resistance. In the body's attempt to compensate for insulin resistance, extra insulin is produced, leading to elevated insulin levels. The elevated insulin levels can lead, directly or indirectly, to the characteristic metabolic abnormalities seen in these patients. Frequently, the insulin resistance will progress to overt type 2 diabetes, which further increases the risk of cardiovascular complications.
Type 2 diabetes was also previously referred to as non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM), or adult-onset diabetes mellitus (AODM). In type 2 diabetes, patients can still produce insulin, but do so relatively inadequately for their body's needs, particularly in the face of insulin resistance as discussed above. In many cases this actually means the pancreas produces larger than normal quantities of insulin. A major feature of type 2 diabetes is a lack of sensitivity to insulin by the cells of the body (particularly fat and muscle cells).
Sat Sharma, MD, FRCPC is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Sleep Medicine, American College of Chest Physicians, American College of Physicians-American Society of Internal Medicine, American Thoracic Society, Canadian Medical Association, Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, Royal Society of Medicine, Society of Critical Care Medicine, and World Medical Association
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Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of metabolic risk factors that come together in a single individual. These metabolic factors include insulin resistance, hypertension (high blood pressure), cholesterol abnormalities, and an increased risk for blood clotting. Affected individuals are most often overweight or obese. An association between certain metabolic disorders and cardiovascular disease has been known since the 1940s.
The earliest surviving work with a detailed reference to diabetes is that of Aretaeus of Cappadocia (2nd or early 3rd century CE). He described the symptoms and the course of the disease, which he attributed to the moisture and coldness, reflecting the beliefs of the "Pneumatic School". He hypothesized a correlation of diabetes with other diseases, and he discussed differential diagnosis from the snakebite which also provokes excessive thirst. His work remained unknown in the West until 1552, when the first Latin edition was published in Venice.
It is common for there to be a development of visceral fat, after which the adipocytes (fat cells) of the visceral fat increase plasma levels of TNF-α and alter levels of a number of other substances (e.g., adiponectin, resistin, and PAI-1). TNF-α has been shown not only to cause the production of inflammatory cytokines, but also possibly to trigger cell signaling by interaction with a TNF-α receptor that may lead to insulin resistance. An experiment with rats fed a diet with 33% sucrose has been proposed as a model for the development of metabolic syndrome. The sucrose first elevated blood levels of triglycerides, which induced visceral fat and ultimately resulted in insulin resistance. The progression from visceral fat to increased TNF-α to insulin resistance has some parallels to human development of metabolic syndrome. The increase in adipose tissue also increases the number of immune cells present within, which play a role in inflammation. Chronic inflammation contributes to an increased risk of hypertension, atherosclerosis and diabetes.
Cataracts and glaucoma are also more common among diabetics. It is also important to note that since the lens of the eye lets water through, if blood sugar concentrations vary a lot, the lens of the eye will shrink and swell with fluid accordingly. As a result, blurry vision is very common in poorly controlled diabetes. Patients are usually discouraged from getting a new eyeglass prescription until their blood sugar is controlled. This allows for a more accurate assessment of what kind of glasses prescription is required.