We know that obesity is a risk factor for diseases like stroke, diabetes, heart disease, osteoarthritis, and some cancers. But there are other ways obesity is dangerous too. One of these is highlighted by a new study which found that people who are obese face major risks when they are admitted to the hospital for emergency surgery. For instance, the researchers reported that almost half the people studied with a BMI over 35 had to be admitted to the ICU (Intensive Care Unit) after their surgeries. Almost 20% of these people studied did not survive to be released from the hospital. The co-author of the study said, “This is one of the first studies to show in an emergency surgical population that the severely obese patients have such risk for major complications and death.” The study was done at the University of Alberta and published in the Canadian Journal of Surgery.
Why is it that people who are obese may have such significant risk when they need a variety of surgeries? One possible explanation, the researchers point out, is that these people may be more sick to begin with. They may have weaker hearts, conditions like diabetes which make their health worse to begin with, or high blood pressure. Another possibility is that these patients are malnourished or have a deficiency in muscle. This condition of muscle deficiency is known as sarcopenia. Sarcopenia happens to all of us as we age, starting in our 30s, but it is made worse by inactivity. People who are obese often struggle with inactivity, partly because they have increased joint pain which makes movement more difficult. Whatever the reason, it is important for both patients and healthcare providers to understand that these serious risks exist.
Studies like these highlight the importance of obesity treatments like bariatric surgery. Since no one can predict when they’ll need an emergency surgery like those in the study, and no one can lose weight in a matter of days, getting treatment early is important for the potential in reducing risks like ICU admits and death.