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Sharp Health News

The link between weight and heart health

June 21, 2017

The link between weight and heart health

Obesity has doubled in more than 70 countries since 1980, according to a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. In 2015, close to 604 million adults were diagnosed as obese. Furthermore, high body mass index (BMI) was the cause of 4 million deaths worldwide and a majority of these deaths were due to cardiovascular disease.

Dr. Jay Pandhi, a cardiologist affiliated with Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center, is not surprised by these findings. For years, he has counseled his patients about the importance of weight maintenance to decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease and other life-threatening conditions.

Dr. Pandhi recently took the time to answer five questions about the cardiovascular health effects of being overweight or obese.

What are the main causes of obesity in America?
The main causes of obesity in America are related to lifestyle and nutritional choices we make each day. We have the opportunity to improve our health through simple measures we can take by addressing the following three causes of obesity:

  • Sedentary lifestyle and lack of exercise and activity
  • The availability and prevalence of fast food and unhealthy food vs. healthy food options
  • Poor decisions about nutrition

How does being overweight or obese affect the heart?
Obesity affects heart health in many ways. The main function of the heart is to act as a pump to circulate the blood to the rest of the body. Having more body mass means that the heart has to work harder to circulate the blood. This leads to increased strain on the heart, which in the long term can influence how efficiently the heart can pump. The heart tries to compensate by "remodeling," which can lead to conditions like congestive heart failure.

What are other risks of being overweight or obese?
Obesity is associated with other conditions including diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol. In addition, patients with obesity are at increased risk of heart attacks and strokes. Other conditions associated with obesity include obstructive sleep apnea, joint and musculoskeletal issues like arthritis, cancers, depression and anxiety.

What are the warning signs that obesity or being overweight is affecting your heart health?
Oftentimes, the impact of obesity on one's health can be subtle. However, some early symptoms that people who are overweight should be aware of include fatigue and loss of energy. Check in with your doctor if you have either these symptoms or the any of the following symptoms that may also be signs of heart disease:

  • Chest discomfort
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Sweating
  • Palpitations

What steps can we take to improve our heart health?
Patients with concerns about their weight should contact their health care provider to discuss the best ways to evaluate and manage the impact of obesity on their health. Some easy steps that people can take at home to improve their heart health include the following:

  • Be more active. Your activities don’t have to be high intensity — even small increases in activity level, such as starting a walking routine for 20 minutes, four to six days each week, can improve heart health significantly.
  • Stop smoking and limit your alcohol consumption.
  • Limit your intake of processed carbohydrates and meats.
  • Avoid or severely limit poor food choices like fast food, processed foods, packaged items and snacks.

For the news media: To talk with Dr. Pandhi about the link between weight and heart health for an upcoming story, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at erica.carlson@sharp.com.

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