Diabetes and obesity are often called a “twin epidemic” because the two conditions usually go together. In fact, about one-third of people with diabetes are also obese, making those individuals at an even greater risk for heart disease.
A new study from the Journal of the American Medical Association found that patients with these dual conditions reduced their risk after having bariatric (weight-loss) surgery. Within five years of the procedure, patients were 40% less likely to have a heart attack or stroke, and one-third less likely to develop a heart condition.
“This study is exciting because it further proves that the benefits of bariatric surgery go beyond weight loss alone,” says Dr. George Mueller, medical director of bariatric surgery at Sharp Memorial Hospital. “For a variety of factors, lifestyle changes and medication may just not be enough for some patients to reduce these serious health risks.”
Bariatric surgery — which includes procedures such as gastric sleeve and gastric bypass — alters the digestive system by limiting how much patients can eat or how their body absorbs nutrients. The surgery is generally recommended for individuals with a BMI of 40 or higher, but those with a BMI of at least 35 with a serious weight-related problem, like diabetes, are also candidates.
The study followed more than 5,000 adult patients with Type 2 diabetes who had bariatric surgery, then compared their health outcomes to a group of nearly 15,000 patients with similar characteristics who received usual medical care for their weight and diabetes.
After five years, 2.1% of patients who had bariatric surgery experienced a heart attack or stroke, compared with 4.3% of the control group. Surgical patients also had a lower incidence of heart disease (1.6%, compared with 2.8% in the control group).
In Type 2 diabetes, the body does not use insulin properly, causing blood sugar levels to rise. Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas that helps glucose get into the cells to be used as energy. The condition was once considered incurable, but studies have shown that significant weight loss — however it’s achieved — helps normalize blood sugar.
Keeping the weight off is key to long-term health. Patients who have undergone bariatric surgery are more successful if they have the support of a comprehensive team of caregivers, Mueller says. At Sharp Memorial Hospital, for example, patients are cared for by specially trained bariatric nurses, and the hospital offers ongoing nutritional and behavioral health support groups.
“Bariatric surgery is a significant commitment. Patients must make lifelong changes to their diet and lifestyle in order to sustain health benefits,” Mueller says. “However, studies like this continue to show that this surgery is about more than losing weight — it could even save your life.”
To learn more about bariatric surgery at Sharp Memorial Hospital, attend a free informational seminar.
For the news media: To talk with Dr. George Mueller about bariatric surgery for an upcoming story, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at firstname.lastname@example.org.