Obesity and Heart Health: Understanding the Connection

obesity and heart health

Being overweight is a well-known contributor to a large number of health conditions.  Patients who are considered overweight or obese are more likely to also suffer from conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, osteoarthritis, and respiratory conditions like sleep apnea.  Most importantly, however, is the significant impact that extra weight can have on the heart.  Consistently, research has shown that those with a higher body mass index (BMI) have a much higher risk to develop heart disease than their peers with a healthy BMI range.  Furthermore, such patients are also more likely to suffer from cardiovascular disease earlier in life.

The reasons that obesity is so closely linked to heart disease are multifaceted and unique from one individual to the next.  However, there a few primary reasons that are easily identifiable:

Obesity can Lead to Metabolic Syndrome

Metabolic syndrome refers to a “cluster” of factors that increase a patient’s risk for diabetes and heart disease.  When seen in conjunction with one another, this group of factors greatly increases the probability of future cardiovascular concerns.  They include:

  • A waist measurement above 32.5” in women and 40” in men
  • Blood pressure of 130/85 or greater
  • HDL cholesterol levels of less than 50 mg/dl in women and 40 mg/dl in men
  • Triglyceride levels of 150 mg/dl or more
  • Insulin resistance

Obesity Negatively Impacts Cholesterol

Cholesterol isn’t all bad.  In fact, “good” cholesterol (HDL) plays an important role in keeping the arteries free from plaque.  However, this hard work can all be undone when levels of “bad” cholesterol, or LDL, are too high.  In overweight patients, a dangerous imbalance between HDL and LDL often occurs, making them more susceptible to plaque buildup, narrowing arteries, and resulting heart disease.

Obesity Increases Blood Pressure

As the body carries increasing weight, the heart must work harder to meet demand.  In doing so, blood pressure increases, straining the blood vessels and heart muscle.  The long-term associated complications can include an enlarged heart, heart attack, heart failure, kidney disease, and peripheral artery disease.

Obesity Increases the Risk of Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a condition in which breathing pauses several times, even hundreds of times, throughout the night.  In turn, blood oxygen levels drop and the brain briefly rouses the sufferer to inhale.  In many cases, patients are unaware of these moments of temporary wakefulness.  In fact, it is often the associated daytime symptoms or the observation of a partner which leads to an eventual diagnosis.  Unfortunately, the longer the condition goes untreated, the more dangerous it can become.  Not only are those who are overweight more likely to suffer from sleep apnea, there are also more likely to succumb to the potential complications, including heart attack and death.

Carrying a few extra pounds may not seem like a big deal, but when body mass index reaches an unhealthy range or associated health conditions begin, the added weight has become a serious health concern.  If you are ready to improve your overall health or have current concerns regarding your heart, contact Cardiovascular Institute of the South, and schedule an appointment with any of our cardiologists.  Together, we can help ensure that your entire cardiovascular system remains healthy and strong.

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CIS Staff

Written by CIS Staff