OAKLAND, Calif., May 20 (UPI) -- One-third of American adults have the potentially life-threatening metabolic syndrome, however the number of people with it appears to have stabilized in recent years due to increased awareness of the conditions which comprise the syndrome.
Metabolic syndrome is the concurrence of three or more risk factors including obesity, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, high triglycerides, and low levels of "good" cholesterol that can lead to cardiovascular illness and death.
Researchers reviewed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey collected between 2003 and 2012, finding the prevalence of the syndrome increased during those years from 32.9 percent to 34.7 percent, according to a press release.
"That's a scary percentage -- that a third of adults have it," study author Dr. Robert J. Wong, of the Alameda Health System-Highland Hospital, told Live Science. "A large proportion of them will have metabolic syndrome, and be at risk for major diseases such as heart disease, [nonalcoholic] fatty liver disease and associated diabetes."
Despite the slight rise in prevalence to a full third of the country between 2003 and 2008, prevalence stabilized with some demographics actually seeing a slight decrease from 2008 to 2012. Among women, prevalence decreased from 39.4 percent to 36.6 percent.
In the study, researchers note awareness and education in recent years of the lifestyle changes that can reduce the potential health complications of metabolic syndrome has helped, which is why obesity rates have stabilized -- something considered key to overall syndrome rates stabilizing as well.
While the study is cause for concern, Wong said, it also shows that "just because you have metabolic syndrome, that doesn't mean you can't reverse it."
The study is published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.