The tendency for selected cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk factors to occur in clusters has led to the description of metabolic syndrome (MetS). The relative impact of the individual risk factor on the overall relative risk (RR) for cardiovascular death from metabolic syndrome is not well established and may differ across the different racial/ethnic groups. Using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES II) mortality follow-up (NH2MS), we determined the prevalence and RR of cardiovascular death for individual components in the overall population and across racial and ethnic groups. The prevalence of MetS components varied significantly across gender and racial/ethnic groupings. The RR for CVD also varies for the number and different components of MetS. The adjusted RR for cardiovascular death was highest with diabetes (3.23; 95% CI: 2.70-3.88), elevated blood pressure (2.28; 95% CI: 1.94-2.67) and high triglycerides (1.63; 95% CI: 1.34-2.00). Although the RR for cardiovascular death differs significantly for some of the different components, the overall findings were similar across racial/ethnic groups. The two components that confer the highest risks for death are more prevalent in African Americans. We concluded that the RR of cardiovascular death associated with the diagnosis of MetS varies depending on the number and components used to establish the diagnosis of MetS and the racial/ethnic characteristic of the participants.