New Test for Metabolic Risks in Teens

Metabolic syndrome diagnosis made better by new scoring system

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) The best way to battle diabetes or heart disease is to prevent them from occurring. If doctors know who is at risk for these diseases, they can encourage patients to make important lifestyle changes before drugs or treatment become necessary.

Doctors may be able to spot teen patients with metabolic syndrome - a name for a group of risk factors that increase the chance of heart disease and type 2 diabetes - using a new scoring system.

"Eat healthy and exercise to protect your heart and prevent diabetes."

"Children with the metabolic syndrome have more than 11 times the odds of developing type 2 diabetes within 30 years than do those without this cluster of medical abnormalities," explains Mark DeBoer, MD, of the University of Virginia, Charlottesville and one of the current study's authors.

At the moment, the measures used to diagnose metabolic syndrome are not designed for adolescents and do not consider race.

According to Dr. DeBoer, even some of the measures that have been adapted for young patients tend to miss adolescents who are probably at risk of metabolic syndrome.

Even though African Americans have a higher risk of type 2 diabetes and death from heart disease, black teens are less likely to be diagnosed with metabolic syndrome.

With these racial gaps in mind, Dr. DeBoer and Matthew Gurka, PhD, of West Virginia University, set out to see if the characteristics of metabolic syndrome were different between racial and ethnic groups.

To be diagnosed with metabolic syndrome, a person must have at least three of five risk factors: a large waist size, high blood pressure (hypertension), high blood sugar levels, high levels of blood fat (triglycerides) and low levels of so-called "good" cholesterol (HDL cholesterol).

Some young people, however, have measures that just fall short of the cut-off point. As a result, they are not diagnosed with metabolic syndrome even though they may still be at risk of heart disease and diabetes in adulthood.

To deal with the shortcomings of current diagnosis methods, Dr. DeBoer and Dr. Gurka developed a new scoring system that measures risk on a continuous scale. That is, the score can show varying degrees of risk.

According to the authors, the new system is "the first racial/ethnic-specific and sex-specific scoring system for the metabolic syndrome."

Using the new scoring system, the researchers found that the individual risk factors for metabolic syndrome were different between racial and ethnic groups. For example, black males were less likely than others to have low HDL cholesterol.

However, when black males did have low "good" cholesterol, it was a sign that metabolic syndrome was getting worse.

The new system diagnosed metabolic syndrome in almost 76 percent of black males, while the current system diagnosed the condition in only 42 percent of black males.

The study - which involved 4,174 teens between 12 and 19 years of age - was presented at the 94th Annual Meeting of the Endocrine Society.

The results have yet to be published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
June 26, 2012
Last Updated:
November 28, 2012