According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), the leading cause of death in the United States is heart disease, with nearly 700,000 deaths annually. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that the world’s leading cause of death is heart disease, accounting for nearly 16% of deaths worldwide.

Heart disease is the leading cause of mortality in the state of Arkansas. In terms of death rates caused by cardiovascular diseases, Arkansas is presently ranked fourth in the United States.

I want to help change that.

Risk Factors for Heart Disease

There are many risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Some are called “non-modifiable” because you can’t do anything to adjust the risk. Examples of risk factors that can’t be altered include your age, gender, and family medical history.

Other cardiovascular disease risk factors are called “modifiable,” since you can take steps to diminish the risks. The most commonly cited modifiable risk factors for heart disease include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and obesity.

The Link Between Obesity & Heart Disease

It has been known for a very long time that being obese is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Dr. Eugenia Calle and colleagues followed more than one million patients over a period of more than 15 years. In 1999, they published an article in the New England Journal of Medicine with their findings: as one’s body mass index (BMI) increased, so did the likelihood of dying from cardiovascular disease—practically in a linear fashion.

This viewpoint was supported by research published in The Lancet in 2009 that analyzed the relationship between BMI and mortality in 900,000 individuals. A similar linear association between higher mortality and rising BMI was established. The data revealed a decreased life expectancy of 8 to 10 years in a person with a BMI of greater than 40, which is approximately the same decreased life expectancy of smokers.

Interestingly, while obesity has been shown to increase cardiovascular mortality rates, it is not clear that medical weight loss efforts alone—meaning, without surgical intervention—will necessarily help reduce the risk of heart disease.

For example, the Look AHEAD (Action for Health in Diabetes) trial aimed to examine the impact of intentional weight loss on cardiovascular disease in individuals with type 2 diabetes. The trial enrolled over 5,000 participants and followed them for nearly a decade on average. The results showed that intentional weight loss through calorie restriction and increased activity did not result in a statistically significant reduction in major cardiovascular events when compared to a control group who received diabetes support and education alone. 

Can Bariatric Surgery Help Heart Disease Patients?

When we compare the modifiable risk factors associated with heart disease to the ailments that can be addressed with bariatric surgery, it should come as no surprise that bariatric surgery has been shown to increase life expectancy by 5 to 10 years.

Bariatric surgery has a dramatic impact on several modifiable cardiovascular disease risk factors. It has been shown in numerous trials to reduce cardiovascular disease mortality rates. For instance, a study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology looked at nearly 200,000 surgical vs. non-surgical patients. After four years, they concluded that the surgical group had a lower risk of dying, heart failure, and heart attacks.

This reduction in cardiovascular disease morbidity and mortality has been shown in multiple other studies, including a 2004 study in the Annals of Surgery, a 2007 article from the New England Journal of Medicine, and a 2021 article that appeared in Circulation, just to name a few.

Can Sleeve Gastrectomy Help Heart Disease Patients?

With cardiovascular disease being the #1 killer in the United States and in Arkansas, we are in need of new tools and new thinking to address this problem.

Sleeve gastrectomy, which is the most commonly performed weight loss procedure worldwide, helps address all of the aforementioned modifiable risk factors associated with heart disease. Patients often lose between 60% – 70% of their excess body weight after undergoing the surgery. This improvement helps mitigate the long-term damage that is done to the heart by obesity and its related diseases, resulting in a better and longer life for the patient.

A sleeve gastrectomy is a bariatric procedure that reshapes the stomach from a big bag-shaped organ to a smaller, banana-shaped organ. It can cause dramatic weight loss, which in turn can cause exceptional improvements in obesity-related diseases. In fact, many of the diseases that show considerable improvement after having a sleeve gastrectomy are known risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

Talk to Your Doctor About Sleeve Gastrectomy for Heart Disease

My practice is at the Arkansas Heart Hospital Bariatric and Metabolic Institute in Little Rock. Our surgeons, nurses, anesthesiologists, and support staff have robust experience in the surgical and medical management of not only the morbidly obese, but the morbidly obese that suffer from heart disease.

If you are looking to prevent or slow down the appearance of heart disease in your own life, we would love the opportunity to assist you in your journey. If you currently suffer from heart disease and want to address your personal modifiable risk factors, few people in the country—much less Arkansas—have more experience than we do at successfully navigating complex cardiac patients through bariatric surgery. Please feel free to give us a call at (501) 219-7770 to learn more.


Call to schedule an appointment with Dr. Bledsoe, today!