The Nation's Health + [Metabolic syndrome]

Metabolic syndrome: Who cares if you're pre-diabetic?

Marta is a smart lady. She's worked in hospital laboratories for the last 23 years and knows many of the ins and outs of lab tests and their implications.

After years of being told that her cholesterol was acceptable, she needed to undergo urgent bypass surgery after experiencing severe breathlessness that proved to be a small warning heart attack at age 57. But this made Marta skeptical of relying on cholesterol to identify heart disease risk.

I met Marta two years after her bypass surgery when she was seeking better answers. And, indeed, she proved to have several concealed sources of heart disease: small LDL particles, Lipoprotein(a), intermediate-density lipoprotein (IDL--a very important abnormality that means she is unable to clear dietary fats from her blood), among others. But she was also mildly diabetic with a blood sugar of 131 mg (normal < or = 100 mg). This had not been previously recognized.

As I'm a cardiologist and our program focuses on reversal and control of coronary plaque, I asked Marta to return to her primary care doctor to continue the conversation about diabetes. She was a bit frightened but followed through.

"Well, you're not urinating excessively. And your long-term measure of blood sugar, hemoglobin A1C, is still normal. I wouldn't worry about it. We'll just watch it."

I guess I should know better. What the poor primary care doctor doesn't know is that pre-diabetes and mild diabetes are potent risks for heart disease. In fact, some of the most explosive rates of plaque growth occur when these patterns are present. It's well established that risk for heart attack in a diabetic is the same as that of someone who's already suffered a prior heart attack--very high risk, in other words.

Marta's primary care doctor's advice would be like inquiring about cancer and the doctor says "Let's just wait until it's metastatic--then we'll start to worry." Of course, this is insane.

Pre-diabetes and mild diabetes should not be ignored or just "watched". Even though the blood sugar itself may not be high enough to endanger you, the hidden patterns underlying your body's unresponsiveness to insulin creates a torrent of hidden coronary risk.

For better answers, Track Your Plaque members can read "Shutting Off Metabolic Syndrome " at http://www.healthcare.gov/library/fl_dp001metabolic.asp on the www.healthcare.gov website. ("Metabolic syndrome" is the name commonly given to the constellation of abnormalities associated with pre-diabetes and diabetes.)