Why Weight Increases the Risk for Stroke and Heart Attack
You may know that your weight can have a big impact on your cardiovascular health. In fact, a Body Mass Index (BMI) over 30 can increase your risk for cardiovascular disease, heart attack, and stroke, which cause one in every three deaths in the United States. For every number you go up on the BMI scale, the risk of heart disease is increased—5 percent in men and 7 percent in women.
But how does weight cause an increase in the risk for stroke and heart attack? Much of the answer lies in how obesity can cause a number of secondary risk factors, or health conditions which, in themselves, increase the risk for heart attack and stroke.
Your Weight Impacts Cholesterol Levels
Research has proven there is a connection between obesity and levels of cholesterol, a waxy substance that is produced by the liver and circulated in the blood. Although the body uses cholesterol for many important functions, there are different kinds of cholesterol that impact health. High-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL) is good cholesterol, which helps remove bad cholesterol from the arteries so that it can be flushed from the body.
The risk of cardiovascular disease can increase if your good cholesterol levels are too low and levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, or bad cholesterol, are too high. High levels of LDL cholesterol can double the risk for heart disease. Most of the body’s cholesterol is LDL cholesterol, which can build up in the arteries, leading to hardened, narrow arteries. A stroke or a heart attack can occur with a blockage of an artery.
High cholesterol and obesity can both be caused by some of the same factors, including eating foods high in saturated fats and lack of physical activity. But obesity in itself can also cause bad cholesterol to go up and good cholesterol to go down because obesity can cause a change in the way your body produces LDL. Losing even 5 to 10 percent of total body weight can help improve LDL levels.
Obesity Can Elevate Blood Pressure
As blood is pumped by the heart, the force of the blood against the walls of the arteries is called blood pressure. When the blood is flowing with too much force, it’s known as high blood pressure (hypertension). About a third of everyone in the United States has high blood pressure, although many people aren’t aware of it. High blood pressure causes damage to the lining of the arteries, which can make them more at risk for plaque buildup, and it’s one of the major risk factors for stroke and heart disease.
About 75 percent of people with high blood pressure are obese. Being obese can elevate blood pressure because the heart has to work harder to pump blood, placing extra strain on the arteries, which may resist this strain, elevating blood pressure.
Losing weight and adopting healthy lifestyle habits in your diet and physical exercise can help lower your blood pressure, reducing risk for heart attack and stroke.
Type 2 Diabetes and Obesity
Type 2 diabetes is another major contributor to the risk of cardiovascular disease—in fact, adults who have diabetes have nearly twice as high a chance of dying from a stroke or heart disease than those without diabetes. High blood glucose levels from diabetes can lead to damaged blood vessels and diabetes can also raise LDL cholesterol. Both issues can raise your risk for stroke and heart attack.
An obese person’s chance of developing type 2 diabetes is three to seven times more than someone who is not obese. Type 2 diabetes causes the body to become resistant to the salutary action, or good effects, of insulin. This can happen because overeating places stress on individual cells and signals changes to the cell’s insulin receptors, leading to insulin resistance and high blood sugar.
Taking Control of the Risks
Losing weight often can help address many underlying conditions that elevate the risks for heart attack and stroke. For many people living with obesity, weight loss surgery is an approach that offers an effective, long-term solution. Weight loss through bariatric surgery has been shown to be associated with significant weight loss that improves or even resolves health conditions that are secondary risk factors for heart attack and stroke, including high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes.
At My New Beginning, we help people through weight loss surgery as a tool for weight loss and we also help patients design an entire journey to better health. Our comprehensive program provides pre-surgical education for every patient to help them make healthy lifestyle changes supporting ongoing improvement to cardiovascular health. Adopting healthy eating habits and physical activity are key to lowering the risk for stroke and heart disease. As part of the comprehensive My New Beginning program, you receive clinical guidance and ongoing peer support to help you make lasting changes to your life.