Research suggests being overweight protects heart surgery patients

Overweight and obese patients are less likely to die in hospital after a heart operation than patients who are a normal weight, according to a study published in the journal Circulation and led by researchers from our University.

Researchers funded by the British Heart Foundation (BHF), collected data about 401,227 adults in the UK and Ireland who had undergone cardiac surgery between 1st April 2002 and 31st March 2013.

Patients’ body mass index (BMI) was categorised into six groups; underweight (BMI under 18.5 Kg/m2), normal weight (BMI 18.5-25), overweight (BMI 25-30), obese class I (BMI 30-35), obese class II (BMI 35-40), and obese class III (BMI over 40).

When they looked at how well these patients fared in hospital after their surgery the team, at the University of Leicester, found that overweight and obese patients were less likely to have died than patients who were a normal weight, while patients who were underweight had a higher risk of dying.

BHF Professor Gavin Murphy, BHF Professor of cardiac surgery, said: “Obesity is a reason often given for not offering patients surgery. With this study we show that, for cardiac patients at least, being obese should not be a reason to turn patients away from surgery.

“These results also raise questions as to whether there may be attributes of obesity that directly protect patients. Understanding these processes may open the door to new prevention strategies or treatments.”

Whilst this study is the largest of its kind looking at the link between obesity and surgery survival rates, it only looked at the survival rates of patients whilst they were still in hospital and cannot therefore be used to predict the long-term survival of surgery patients.