When caloric intake exceeds caloric expenditure, the positive caloric balance and storage of energy in adipose tissue often causes adipocyte hypertrophy and visceral adipose tissue accumulation. These pathogenic anatomic abnormalities may incite metabolic and immune responses that promote Type 2 diabetes mellitus, hypertension and dyslipidemia. These are the most common metabolic diseases managed by clinicians and are all major cardiovascular disease risk factors. 'Disease' is traditionally characterized as anatomic and physiologic abnormalities of an organ or organ system that contributes to adverse health consequences. Using this definition, pathogenic adipose tissue is no less a disease than diseases of other body organs. This review describes the consequences of pathogenic fat cell hypertrophy and visceral adiposity, emphasizing the mechanistic contributions of genetic and environmental predispositions, adipogenesis, fat storage, free fatty acid metabolism, adipocyte factors and inflammation. Appreciating the full pathogenic potential of adipose tissue requires an integrated perspective, recognizing the importance of 'cross-talk' and interactions between adipose tissue and other body systems. Thus, the adverse metabolic consequences that accompany fat cell hypertrophy and visceral adiposity are best viewed as a pathologic partnership between the pathogenic potential adipose tissue and the inherited or acquired limitations and/or impairments of other body organs. A better understanding of the physiological and pathological interplay of pathogenic adipose tissue with other organs and organ systems may assist in developing better strategies in treating metabolic disease and reducing cardiovascular disease risk.