Valentine’s Day is right around the corner—which means the shelves of every store are lined with heart shaped decorations, candies, and gifts. It’s a time when most of us think about our hearts in the metaphorical sense; about romance and dating and love. But are we thinking enough about our physical hearts?
Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women—it’s estimated to cause 1 out of every 4 American deaths. That’s about 630,000 deaths every year. Data from the CDC even indicates that just under half of Americans (49%) have at least one of three major risk factors; high blood pressure, high LDL cholesterol, or a history of smoking.
Now you may be asking: “What does this have to do with bariatric surgery?”
Well, bariatric surgery may be best known for the dramatic weight-loss that patients achieve, but there are so many more benefits! Comorbidities—multiple connected and chronic health issues—associated with obesity and overweight are known to improve after bariatric surgery. Patients see less severe symptoms, and even resolution, of problems like joint pain, sleep apnea, arthritis, asthma… And most importantly, heart conditions!
The most common form of diabetes is type 2 diabetes—when the body develops something called “insulin resistance,” causing the body not to use insulin properly. Though the pancreas initially produces more insulin to make up for it, eventually it can’t keep up and fails to keep blood glucose levels normal.
As one might expect of a condition that affects blood, diabetes also has an impact on the heart. People with diabetes are at a higher risk for heart disease, according to the National Heart, Blood, and Lung Institute; there are more ways for them to develop heart disease, and they may develop it at a younger age. Diabetes on its own is a risk factor for developing heart disease, and when combined with obesity and overweight, that risk grows.
Luckily, type 2 diabetes can improve in bariatric patients, and even resolve completely! According to the American Diabetes Association’s 2018 Standards of Care, bariatric surgery continues to be a key treatment strategy for type 2 diabetes. Accordingly, patients are also less at risk for a diabetic heart disease. Meanwhile, the weight they lose reduces the risk related to overweight and obesity!
Research published in PLOS Medicine in the UK estimated that up to 5,000 heart attacks could be prevented over 4 years by bariatric surgery. Maureen Talbot, a senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation said: “This new research affirms what we already know, that maintaining a healthy weight reduces your risk of developing cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.”
Lead Author Dr. Ian Douglas concluded that people who had a weight-loss surgery were 70% less likely to have a heart attack. “Whilst effective prevention is clearly needed,” he concluded, “our findings show that as well as helping patients substantially lose weight, bariatric surgery improves serious obesity-related illnesses as well as reducing the risk of developing them.”
While some risk factors for heart attacks are set in stone—many hereditary or linked to age—those which can be modified are very similar to the general risk factors for cardiac disease. Therefore, it stands to reason that lowering a person’s risk for one lowers it for the other.
Among the CDC’s list of heart disease risk factors are high blood pressure, high LDL cholesterol, and diabetes—all of which can be symptoms of overweight and obesity. Another risk factor, physical inactivity, could be caused by weight-related comorbidities such as joint pain, arthritis, and asthma. Suffice to say; when it comes to heart disease, risk factors can come individually or in overwhelming groups.
Compiled data from American Heart Association showed that bariatric surgery patients had a 50% lower risk of heart failure compared to individuals on only a structured lifestyle-modification program. In addition, these surgical patients lost more weight and had fewer incidences of hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and atrial fibrillation—an irregular heartbeat that can lead to strokes and other complications.
Likewise, a study in Pediatrics showed that teens who chose to have bariatric surgery had fewer risk factors than those who did not.
Bariatric surgery is not a miracle cure, but it is a wonderful tool that helps patients on the path towards healthier living. By achieving significant weight loss, these symptoms become less intrusive, and can even alleviate entirely.
As with any muscle in the body, our hearts work harder to pump against resistance—in this case, extra fat, especially on the midsection—and grows larger as a result. Unfortunately, bigger is not always better. Larger hearts are not stronger than smaller hearts, and in fact, they work less effectively. Oversized chambers in the heart are simply not able to pump blood as powerfully.
The good news is that this change is not permanent! A study performed by researchers at the Cleveland Clinic showed that 1 year after their surgeries, nearly half of the patients’ hearts had gone back to their natural shape and geometry.
In addition, the aforementioned Pediatrics study on teens who underwent bariatric surgery showed that their heart health improved immensely with their weight loss. The major cardiac risk factors observed by these researchers were elevated blood pressure, high cholesterol, high insulin levels, and abnormally high levels of C-reactive protein (an indicator of inflammation).
After their procedures, 83% of the teens had either 1 or none of these risk factors; the number of teens with 2 or 3 risk factors decreased substantially, and no participants had all 4 risk factors!
The best way to get started on a health journey is to talk to the experts! Dr. Mehran and the team at University Bariatrics are leaders in the field, committed to patient comfort and success. Schedule a consultation today and find out how bariatric surgery can change your life.