Weight Gain Elevates Heart Failure Risk

Even small weight gain may change the structure of the heart.

A new study published by the Journal of the American Heart Association reports that gaining weight over time may change the structure and function of the heart. These changes may increase the risk of heart failure later in life, according to the study authors.

Included in the study were 1262 adults who did not have heart disease or conditions that increase the risk of heart disease for 7 years. Of the participants, 57% were women, 44% were black, and 36% were obese, according to the study.

Patients underwent MRI scans of their hearts and had their body fat measured at baseline and after 7 years.

The authors discovered that patients who gained as little as 5% of their body weight had an increased risk of having a thickened and enlarged left ventricle, which is an established risk factor for heart failure, according to the study.

Patients who gained weight were also more likely to display small decreases in the heart’s pumping ability compared with patients who did not gain weight during the 7-year period.

The authors found that patients who gained weight were more likely to have changes in the appearance and function of the heart muscle as well. These changes persisted even after accounting for other factors, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, and alcohol intake, according to the study.

The investigators observed that patients who lost weight were likely to have decreases in heart muscle thickness. This finding suggests that if caught early, the changes may be reversable in certain patients.

Importantly, baseline weight was not observed to affect the changes, meaning that patients at normal weight could develop adverse heart effects if they gain weight, according to the study. This occurrence may provide additional evidence in favor of limiting weight gain.

The authors caution that their study included a small patient population and that not every person will develop heart failure if they gain weight. Additionally, the findings do not suggest that weight gain changes the heart’s function in all patients.

Further studies are needed to determine if aggressive weight management can successfully reverse the changes brought on by weight gain, according to the study.

“Any weight gain may lead to detrimental changes in the heart above and beyond the effects of baseline weight so that prevention should focus on weight loss or if meaningful weight loss cannot be achieved — the focus should be on weight stability,” said senior study author Ian Neeland, MD. “Counseling to maintain weight stability, even in the absence of weight loss, may be an important preventive strategy among high-risk individuals.”