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Weight-Loss Surgery Cuts Heart Risk More Than Drugs

Weight-Loss Surgery Reduces Heart Dangers More Than Drugs
At least 2.8 million adults die each year as a result of being overweight or obese, according to the Geneva-based World Health Organization. Photographer: Vanderlei Almeida/AFP/Getty Images

Weight-loss surgical procedures such as stomach stapling and gastric banding reduce the warning signs of heart disease more dramatically than drug treatments and can be life-saving, according to a survey of 73 previous studies.

For more than half of the almost 20,000 patients included in the research, risk factors for stroke, heart attack and heart failure -- such as high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol -- significantly improved or were resolved, said researchers led by Amanda Vest of the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. The survey was published yesterday in the U.K. journal Heart, which commissioned the research.

At least 2.8 million adults die each year as a result of being overweight or obese, according to the Geneva-based World Health Organization. Candidates for bariatric surgery, designed to limit food intake, include those who are more than 100 pounds (45 kilograms) over their ideal body weight.

“The magnitude of effect on risk factors is impressive, and to date no pharmacological therapy for weight management or diabetes has shown a comparable effect over these short time periods,” the study authors said in the published paper. “In appropriately selected patients, especially those with a high cardiovascular risk, surgical weight loss could be life-saving.”

Surgery Risks

Weight-loss surgery itself carries risks and can even cause death, the authors said. Complications include wound infection, bleeding, gallstones and nutritional deficiencies, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

Almost half of patients undergoing gastric banding for obesity needed to have the device removed, often because of erosion, according to a study published by the Archives of Surgery this year.

Weight-loss surgery is too often thought of as a “quick fix” that patients choose without properly assessing the risks, according to the Obesity Management Association, a UK-based patient advocacy group.

“Bariatric surgery does have a role to play in obesity management, but we should explore every other option before we resort to surgery,” Robert Houtman, director of the OMA, said in a statement today.

Still, severely obese people benefit from weight-loss surgery, the American Heart Association said in a policy statement March 14. The group, for the first time, said the risks of the procedure aren’t as great as the help provided by the reduction in the risk of diabetes, high cholesterol and heart ailments associated with obesity.

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