Weight-loss surgery can heal the heart

September 9, 2010 12:53:16 PM PDT
Weight-loss surgery is a last resort. It's major surgery for those who can't lose weight any other way. But now, Houston researchers are taking a second look at weight-loss surgery because in a brand new study, they have evidence it can reverse heart disease.

When Connie Campbell weighed 310 pounds, she was almost an invalid. After gastric band surgery, she dropped 110 pounds. And now, she swims with the dolphins and goes dog sledding in Alaska.

"Almost like being a teenager again," she said.

But UT Houston researchers wondered about her heart.

The question was: What happens to the heart when there's an extreme and rapid weight loss? Does it make the muscle weaker or does it improve it?

"We were completely open-minded when we started," said Dr. Heinrich Taegtmeyer, UT Health Cardiologist at Memorial Hermann Hospital.

They ran a small 15-patient study for the National Institutes of Health.

After Campbell's gastric band surgery, her heart had dropped the fat and shrunk, just as her waist had.

"Her heart, we could see, shrunk back to a normal size," Dr. Taegtmeyer said.

And it got stronger.

"The pumping function became more efficient," he said.

Here's the twist: The heart improved before she lost all that weight.

And it wasn't just Campbell.

"That was true for all of our patients," Dr. Taegtmeyer said.

"It's almost like a cure. that's a good way to say it," Bariatric Surgeon Dr. Erik Wilson said. "It's an amazing thing."

Wilson performed Campbell's weight-loss surgery. And the story gets even more interesting.

"There seems to be something else going on other than just losing weight," Dr. Wilson said. "If you do certain operations, the diabetes is resolved before you've even lost a certain amount of weight, and heart function can improve very dramatically without massive weight loss."

So the scientists theorize the surgery itself may be causing hormone changes that are responsible for shrinking her enlarged heart and for curing others of diabetes.

For Campbell, it was a bonus. She lost the weight and ended up with a healed heart.

"It's provocative," said Dr. Reynolds Delagdo, a cardiologist with the Texas Heart Institute. "If you can show this in a larger group of patients, then I think that it will give us ample proof that obesity is a serious issue and that it has direct effects on the heart, as well as indirect effects."

Delgado, who is unrelated to the study, says the bypass is not without risks. The UT researchers do not recommend having weight-loss surgery for any other reason except weight loss, or at least until they can do more and larger studies.

UT researchers are now trying to help people of normal weight by seeing if some kind of gastric surgery might cure their diabetes. We will certainly be following this story.


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