The good news is that bariatric surgery allows the heart to return to its natural shape and function, according to recent research from the Cleveland Clinic.
When you’re overweight, your heart has to generate more force to pump blood throughout your body. This extra workload causes the heart muscle to grow. The problem with having a larger heart is that it doesn’t make it stronger. In fact, it has a harder time fulfilling its functions.
“We know that obesity is the most prevalent disease in the United States. And that the cardiovascular system is significantly affected by this disease process,” said lead study author Raul J. Rosenthal, MD, FACS, chairman, department of General Surgery at the Cleveland Clinic in Weston, Florida. “But we wanted to know to what degree the shape of the heart changes in someone who is obese, what the heart looks like in someone after having bariatric surgery and losing weight, and how that change in geometry affects heart functionality.”
For this study, researchers at the Cleveland Clinic reviewed data on 51 obese men and women who underwent bariatric surgery between 2010 and 2015, according to a news release. The average age of the patients was 61 years and the average body mass index was 40. Each patient was about 100 pounds overweight.
To better understand the impact of a bariatric operation and weight loss on heart health, the researchers compared preoperative and postoperative echocardiography readings of patients before and after bariatric surgery. Using these ultrasounds, they could measures the heart’s size, geometry and function. The readings how much blood is in the heart, how much blood goes out of the heart, and how much blood remains in the heart.
Heart Health Improves After Bariatric Surgery
One year after bariatric surgery, the researchers found significant improvements in patients’ heart health.
- Nearly half of the patients had hearts that had gone back to their natural shape or geometry.
- They also found that there was a significant improvement in the size of the ventricles: on average these chambers of the heart decreased in size by 15.7 percent.
Larger chambers in the heart lose some of their pumping power. This loss means that more blood stays in the heart, and ultimately increases a person’s risk of heart failure.
“When the size of the chambers gets bigger and the walls of the heart get thicker, the blood flow to the heart is not as good, the functionality of the heart is not as good, and the heart itself doesn’t get enough blood,” Rosenthal said. “The whole body suffers because there is less blood going to your feet and to your toes and to your brain.”
One question still unanswered is whether bariatric surgery can improve the heart’s health for people who’ve had obesity for two decades.
“We don’t know if being obese for 20 years and having changes in your heart geometry is different from being obese for 10 years,” Rosenthal said. “The question is: will the heart always come back to normal? It could be if you wait too long, the changes in your heart are irreversible.”
Source: American College of Surgeons news release