Getting bariatric surgery may significantly help prevent heart attacks, strokes and angina in very obese people, a new study finds. The study participants were also affected by what's known as nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), which is often linked with obesity.
While studying patients who had a body mass index (BMI) higher than 40 and NAFLD, researchers from Rutgers University-New Brunswick and Ohio State University found these patients were 50% more likely to suffer heart attacks, strokes and angina.
But the new findings "provide evidence in support of bariatric surgery as an effective therapeutic tool to lower elevated risk of cardiovascular disease for select individuals with obesity and NAFLD," said study author Dr. Vinod Rustgi, director of the Center for Liver Diseases and Liver Masses at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Jersey. "These finding are tremendously impactful for many reasons."
Rustgi and his colleagues used a medical insurance database for the years 2007 to 2017.
They found nearly 87,000 adults ages 18 to 64 who had obesity and NAFLD, about 64% of whom were women. About 35% of these patients had bariatric surgery, while 65% received nonsurgical care.
The patients who had bariatric surgery had a 49% decrease in the risk of developing heart attacks, heart failure or ischemic strokes (those caused by a blockage). They were also far less likely to experience angina, plaque buildup in the arteries or arterial blood clots, researchers found.
About 697,000 people died of heart disease in 2020 in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women.
NAFLD, along with a more advanced form of liver disease known as NASH, is a rapidly increasing cause of liver disease, according to the study. This happens when too much fat is stored in liver cells, triggering an inflammatory state. NAFLD is more common in people with obesity and type 2 diabetes.
Bariatric surgery can offer heart health benefits because of the positives that happen with weight reduction, according to the researchers.
An earlier study by Rustgi and colleagues found that bariatric surgery could also significantly reduce the risk of cancer -- especially obesity-related cancers -- in obese individuals with NAFLD.
"Although bariatric surgery is a more aggressive approach than lifestyle modifications, it may be associated with other benefits, such as improved quality of life and decreased long-term health care burden," Rustgi said in a Rutgers news release.
The findings were published recently in the journal JAMA Network Open.
The U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases has more on weight-loss surgery.
SOURCE: Rutgers University-New Brunswick, news release, Nov. 14, 2022