Very few of us are clamoring to be next in line for an elective surgical procedure, but some recent research suggests a new benefit for people considering weight loss surgery. According to the study, published in the February 8th issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, gastric bypass patients may not only find it easier to get to a healthy weight — their stressed out hearts can recover as well.
In the study, researchers followed more than 400 severely obese people who underwent gastric bypass surgery. Two years later, the patients were compared with a reference group of more than 300 severely obese individuals who did not have the weight loss surgery.
As you might imagine, those who had the surgery were much healthier. Their body mass index (BMI) fell from an average of nearly 48 to about 32. A body mass index of 48 is considered morbidly obese while a BMI of 32 is obese. In addition to a lower BMI, researchers noted that participants who had the surgery lowered their blood pressure and heart rate, and achieved healthier cholesterol levels and less insulin resistance.
Those who are obese, especially the morbidly obese, are at higher risk for heart problems. These heart problems include but are not limited to heart failure, atrial fibrillation (an abnormal heart rhythm) and death.
The connection between obesity and cardiovascular disease isn’t fully understood, but obese people often show signs of structural changes to the heart, including excess heart muscle mass in the left ventricle and enlargement of the right ventricular cavity. Both are linked to heart failure and other problems.
“We know obese people get cardiovascular disease more often than non-obese people,” said Dr. Sheldon Litwin, chief of cardiology at the Medical College of Georgia. “One of the questions out there is: Is it reversible if they lose weight? The answer is yes.”
While eating healthy and exercising is generally the preferred method for weight loss, some experts believe severely obese people are less likely to swap out bad habits for healthier lifestyles.
Although gastric bypass surgery has been proven to be effective in helping people to shed pounds, it still remains controversial. Some insurance plans won’t cover the costs and, like any other surgery, bypass surgery has many risks. These risks include blood clots, infection, respiratory arrest, gastrointestinal bleeding, small bowel obstruction and death, according to the American Society for Metabolic & Bariatric Surgery.
“There are innumerable known benefits to gastric bypass surgery on most of the 60-odd diseases associated with obesity a patient may have,” said Dr. Lee Kaplan, director of the Massachusetts General Hospital Weight Center. “The question isn’t if gastric bypass works. It does work. The issue has been at what cost, both in terms of health risks and financial? This study provides evidence there are additional substantial benefits with respect to heart muscle function, and we should consider gastric bypass more often in the appropriate patients.”