Woman measuring their waist

Metabolic syndrome

The little-known syndrome that is putting one in three Aussies at risk of heart disease

20 July 2023

With heart attacks on the rise, cardiologists are urging Australians to keep an eye on their waist size.

The Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute is calling for more awareness of metabolic syndrome – a cluster of conditions that can double the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Also known as syndrome X or insulin-resistance syndrome, it is believed to affect around 30 per cent of Australian adults, and can cause heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes

Any three of the following risk factors can lead to a diagnosis of metabolic syndrome:

Cardiologist and Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute’s Executive Director Professor Jason Kovacic says that while metabolic syndrome is common, many Australians still aren’t aware of this condition or its associated risks.

“As a cardiologist, I’ve lost count of the number of patients I have seen and treated with cardiovascular issues like heart attack that have arisen as a direct result of metabolic syndrome – it is such a pervasive and growing issue in our society.”

In 2022 15,000 Australians died of ischemic heart disease (IHD) – around eight percent higher than in 2021 when 13,878 people lost their lives to IHD.

“Most of us have heard about how carrying extra weight, particularly around the abdomen, can affect our health, but people are still largely unaware of metabolic syndrome and how damaging it can be for our hearts and blood vessels,” says Professor Kovacic.

With more than half of Australians already having at least one of the risk factors for metabolic syndrome, Professor Kovacic says people need to be made aware of the steps they can take to avoid it.

“Unfortunately, once you have one of these risk factors, you’re more likely to develop the other risk factors. So, it can be a bit of a snowball effect,” says Professor Kovacic.

Positive lifestyle changes can help to both prevent and treat metabolic syndrome.

“We know this syndrome is largely caused by poor diet, sedentary lifestyle, smoking, and the like,” says Professor Kovacic.

“This is good news because it means we also know how to reduce the risk of metabolic syndrome – this includes making healthy changes to the way we eat and the amount of physical activity we do.”

Tips to lessen your risk

Professor Kovacic advises Australians to focus on making simple lifestyle changes including:

“We know that changing our behaviour isn’t always easy, but whether it’s taking the kids for a bike ride on the weekend or finding ways to add more plant foods to your favourite recipes, every little bit helps reduce the risk of heart issues in the future,” says Prof Kovacic.

Undergoing regular heart health checks with your GP to keep an eye on your cholesterol, triglycerides, blood pressure and blood sugar levels is also recommended.

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Acknowledgement of Country

The Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute acknowledges Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures; and to Elders past and present.

Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute - The Home of Heart Research for 30 Years