Long-term heart failure risk cut in half

Many people struggling to lose a significant amount of weight face what seems like an endless cycle of diets and exercise regimens that yield little success. For these people dealing with obesity, bariatric surgery often helps them lose the weight they need and live a healthier life. Now, new research shows bariatric surgery may improve long-term heart health.

"We know that bariatric surgery can help obese people live longer, fuller lives by helping them lose a significant amount of weight—often 100 pounds or more- and by dramatically improving or resolving the problems that go along with obesity such as diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, sleep apnea, and even heart disease," explained Geisinger bariatric surgeon Dr. Jon Gabrielsen, MD. "This new study shows that bariatric surgery cuts the long-term risk of heart failure by half in people without a history of heart failure."

While heart failure might sound like the heart simply stops working abruptly, it’s actually a much more drawn out process. The heart doesn’t pump blood as well as it should, causing you to feel tired and making everyday activities like breathing, walking or carrying things more difficult. There is no cure for heart failure, and it worsens over time.

The study, conducted by Geisinger Obesity Institute, followed nearly 3,500 patients trying to lose weight. Half of the study participants received gastric bypass surgery; the other half did not.

After five years, patients who had weight-loss surgery saw a significant drop in their weight and BMI. And after eight years, less than half the patients who had weight-loss surgery had developed heart failure, compared to those who did not have the surgery.

Obesity itself is not a risk factor for heart failure; however, it is a risk factor for high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and heart attack, which are risk factors for heart failure.

People with a body mass index (BMI) over 30 are considered obese. People with a BMI over 40 or at least 100 pounds overweight are typically good candidates for weight-loss surgery. Patients people with BMIs over 35 and other health conditions such as diabetes, sleep apnea, heart disease, and severe high blood pressure are also often good candidates for surgery.
There are several different bariatric surgical procedures performed, all of which reduce the stomach’s capacity. Additionally, operations such as the Roux En-Y Gastric Bypass and Bilio-Pancreatic Diversion with Duodenal switch reduce absorption of calories resulting in even greater weight loss. All of the procedures, however, have a beneficial effect on the problems associated with obesity, which include type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, heart attacks, stroke, osteoarthritis and joint pain, cancer and more.

Significant weight loss following bariatric surgery can put type 2 diabetes into long-term remission; help patients breathe better and eliminate sleep apnea in a high percentage of patients; improve heart health and reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke; reduce joint pain; improve mental health and eliminate other associated medical conditions.

"Bariatric surgery can greatly improve and extend the lives of people who are obese," said Dr. Gabrielsen. "Though there are health risks for bariatric surgery just as there are for any major medical procedure and the procedures require long-term follow-up, the benefits often outweigh the risks. Most patients feel as if they have been given a new life."

Dr. Jon Gabrielsen, MD, is a bariatric surgeon for Geisinger. Dr. Gabrielsen sees patients at Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center in Wilkes-Barre and Geisinger Medical Center in Danville. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Gabrielsen or another Geisinger weight-loss specialist, please call 800-275-6401 or visit Geisinger.org.

doctor holding heart prop