Morbidly obese people are more than two times as likely to have heart failure than those with a healthy body weight, though they are not more likely to have other cardiovascular problems like stroke or heart disease, according to John Hopkins researchers.
The researchers could not explain the link, even after accounting for other risk factors such as high blood pressure and cholesterol and diabetes that are known to be connected to extra weight. It may be the weight puts higher demand on the heart and fat may release toxic molecules.
The study, published online in the Journal of the American Heart Association, suggests that while there are treatments for other heart related maladies, weight loss may be the only sure-fire approach to stave off heart failure.
“Obesity in our study has emerged as one of the least explained and likely most challenging risk factors for heart failure because there is no magic pill to treat it, no drugs that can easily address the problem like there are for high cholesterol and high blood pressure,” says Dr. Chiadi Ndumele, assistant professor of medicine and member of theCiccarone Center for the Prevention of Heart Disease at Hopkins' School of Medicine. “Even with diet and exercise, people struggle to lose weight and keep it off, and for the morbidly obese, the struggle is often insurmountable.”
About a third of Americans are obese and more than five percent morbidly obese. And almost six million people have heart failure, where an enlarged or weakened heart muscle diminishes the heart’s efficiency, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those suffering from heart failure often are short of breath and fatigued and have swollen ankles.
In the pool of records reviewed for the study, which was funded by grants from theNational Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, the higher the body mass index, the higher the risk for heart failure.
“Even if my patients have normal blood sugar, cholesterol and blood pressure levels, I believe I still have to worry that they may develop heart failure if they are severely obese,” Ndumele said in a statement. “If our data are confirmed, we need to improve our strategies for heart failure prevention in this population.”