Millions of women nearing menopause have little-known, damaging condition

You’ve probably never heard of metabolic syndrome, but it could be putting your heart at risk.

It’s kind of like a perfect storm of health conditions, and when they come together, they can raise your risk of coronary artery disease, heart attack and type 2 diabetes.

And, it’s especially important to know about metabolic syndrome if you’re a woman approaching menopause, says Grady Memorial Hospital cardiologist Dr. Rachel Harris.

"It's a cluster of factors that increase your risk of heart disease, diabetes and stroke,” says Dr. Harris. “So, the more risk factors you have, the higher your risk for these diseases."

Dr. Harris says there are 5 conditions that play a part in metabolic syndrome: an increased waistline, a jump in triglycerides, low HDL, or "good" cholesterol, elevated blood sugar and higher than normal blood pressure.

She says we know women going through menopause are at increased risk developing this cluster of conditions.  But new research shows a woman’s risk may actually be highest for metabolic syndrome in her pre-menopausal or peri-menopausal years.

“For all women, their risk increased during this period,” says Harris.  “But in Black women, more specifically, their risk was higher."

So, what can you do?

The American Heart Association says step one is get screened for metabolic syndrome, and then get regular checkups.

The Heart Association recommends Menopausal-age women get a cholesterol screening every 5 years,

A blood pressure check every 2 years, and blood sugar test every 3 years.

If you're not exercising, start. 

Harris says regular exercise can help you lose weight, get down to a smaller waistline, and lower your body mass index, or BMI. 

The Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of moderate activity like walking or jogging a week,

which is about 30 minutes a day, most days.

And, Dr. Harris says, rethink how your eat, switching to a more plant-based diet, with plenty of fruits and vegetables, and whole grains.

The idea, she says, is to control what you can. 

Metabolic syndrome can be reversed, but you may have to work with your doctor to get better control of factors like your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels.

Dr. Harris says now is the time to start protecting your heart.