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Can Bariatric Surgery Reduce the Risk of Heart Disease?

As obesity continues to rise in the US, more and more patients are turning to weight loss surgeries such as gastric banding and gastric bypass surgery.  These controversial surgeries have proven highly effective at achieving weight loss in patients—but do they also reduce the risk of heart problems associated with obesity?

Any cardiologist can tell you that obesity is linked to a wide variety of cardiovascular diseases.  Conditions such as hypertension, congestive heart failure, heart attack and stroke are all common heart problems associated with obesity.  Additionally, carrying significant extra weight can overwork the heart, causing it to undergo structural changes and become enlarged.

A study published earlier this week in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology provides compelling evidence that bariatric surgery does, in fact, improve heart health.  The study observed 423 severely obese patients for two years following gastric bypass surgery.  These patients were compared with a control group of 310 severely obese people who did not have the surgery.

Aside from having lost weight and reduced their BMI, the patients who had gastric bypass surgery saw health improvements in many of the major risk factors for heart disease, such as lower blood sugar, cholesterol levels and blood pressure.  The researchers also conducted an echocardiogram on each patient’s heart, which showed a widespread reduction in heart mass and volume.  This return to its normal shape and size indicates that there is less stress being placed on the heart, so it no longer needs to work as hard to pump blood to the body.

Is weight loss surgery really the way to go?  It’s hard to say.  The procedure has some health risks, is expensive and generally requires significant recovery time.  But for severely obese patients with a high risk of heart disease or heart failure, it may be worth considering.

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