The major goals are to treat both the underlying cause of the syndrome, and also to treat the cardiovascular risk factors if they persist. As has been discussed, the majority of people with metabolic syndrome are overweight and lead a sedentary lifestyle.
Lifestyle modification is the preferred treatment of metabolic syndrome. Weight reduction usually requires a specifically tailored multifaceted program that includes diet and exercise. Sometimes medications may be useful.
A detailed discussion of diet therapies, pros and cons of various diets etc. is beyond the scope of this article. However, there is now a trend toward the use of a Mediterranean diet -- one that is rich in "good" fats (olive oil) and contains a reasonable amount of carbohydrates and proteins (such as from fish and chicken).
The Mediterranean diet is palatable and easily sustained. In addition, recent studies have shown that when compared to a low fat diet, people on the Mediterranean diet have a greater decrease in body weight, and also had greater improvements in blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and other markers of heart disease -- all of which are important in evaluating and treating metabolic syndrome.
A sustainable exercise program, fore example 30 minutes five days a week is reasonable to start, providing there is no medical contraindication. (If you have any special concerns in this regard, check with your doctor first.) There is a beneficial effect of exercise on blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and insulin sensitivity, regardless of whether weight loss is achieved or not. Thus, exercise in itself is a helpful tool in treating metabolic syndrome.
Cosmetic surgery to remove fat
Some people may ask: Why not just have liposuction of the abdomen and remove the large amount abdominal fat, which is a big part of the problem? Data thus far shows no benefit in liposuction on insulin sensitivity, blood pressure, or cholesterol. As the saying goes, "If it's too good to be true, it probably is." Diet and exercise are still the preferred primary treatment of metabolic syndrome.
What if lifestyle changes are not enough to treat metabolic syndrome?
What if changes in lifestyle do not do the trick, what then? Drugs to control cholesterol levels, lipids, and high blood pressure may be considered.
If someone has already had a heart attack, their LDL ("bad") cholesterol should be reduced below 100mg/dl. (Some experts now say it should be under 70mg/dl.) A person who has diabetes has a heart attack risk equivalent to that of someone who has already one and so should be treated in the same way. What remains controversial is whether metabolic syndrome should be considered a coronary equivalent or not. If you have metabolic syndrome, a detailed discussion about lipid therapy is needed between you and your doctor, as each individual is unique.
Blood pressure goals are generally set lower than 130/80. Some blood pressure medications offer more than simply lowering blood pressure. For example, a class of blood pressure drugs called ACE inhibitors has been found to also reduce the levels of insulin resistance and actually deter the development of type 2 diabetes. This is an important consideration when discussing the choice blood pressure drugs in the metabolic syndrome.
The discovery that a drug prescribed for one condition, and has other beneficial effects is not new. Drugs used to treat high blood sugar and insulin resistance may have beneficial effects on blood pressure and cholesterol profiles. A class of drugs called thiazolidinediones (pioglitazone [Actos] and rosiglitazone [Avandia]) also reduce the thickness of the walls of the carotid arteries; although restrictions have been placed by the US FDA on the use of rosiglitazone (Avandia) due to a reported increase in heart attack and other cardiovascular events in patients taking this drug.
Metformin (Glucophage), usually used to treat type 2 diabetes, also has been found to help prevent the onset of diabetes in people with metabolic syndrome. Indeed, in my practice, I routinely discuss metformin with my patients who have metabolic syndrome. Many of my patients who have insulin resistance associated with metabolic syndrome opt for metformin therapy. However, there are currently no established guidelines on treating metabolic syndrome patients with metformin if they do not have overt diabetes.
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