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Heart Association Warns of Surgery Risks in Obese
Date:6/15/2009

Complications may include wound infections, heart problems, new advisory says

MONDAY, June 15 (HealthDay News) -- Severely obese people undergoing surgery are at greater risk of heart problems, wound infections, prolonged hospital stays and other complications, according to a Scientific Advisory from the American Heart Association.

Yet many cardiologists, surgeons, anesthesiologists and other health-care providers underestimate the seriousness of the risks, particularly to the heart, the association warns.

About 3 to 4 percent of Americans are considered severely obese, defined as having a body mass index of 40 or higher, according to information in a news release from the association.

People who are severely obese are more likely to have underlying conditions that raise the likelihood of surgical complications. These conditions include heart failure, narrowed arteries (known as atherosclerosis), high blood pressure, heart rhythm disorders, a history of blood clots, poor cardiorespiratory fitness, pulmonary hypertension and sleep apnea, the association added.

Before surgery on someone who's severely obese, health-care providers need to do a thorough examination, taking into account the person's age, gender, fitness level, electrolyte disorders and heart failure, each of which is an independent predictor of how well a person will fare during and after surgery, the advisory states.

Pre-surgical examinations that might be called for include electrocardiograms, chest X-rays and other non-invasive evaluations, such as exercise testing.

Even with the additional tests, obesity can make it more difficult to discern which symptoms are caused by an underlying illness and which are caused by the obesity itself, explained Dr. Paul Poirier, lead author of the advisory and director of the cardiac prevention/rehabilitation program at Laval Hospital in Quebec, Canada.

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