Big Belly May Increase the Risk of Sudden Death

The United States is experiencing an epidemic of obesity.  Baby Boomers were accustomed to discussing weight in terms of ideal body weight and height weight charts.  Susbsequent generations have become used to the Body Mass Index (BMI) and percentage of body fat.

In a study out of the University of Minnesota and the VA Medical Center of Minneapolis, researchers now encourage us to look at the ratio between our waists and our hips as the most accurate predictive tool for sudden cardiac death.  Sudden cardiac death is defined as a death that occurred within one hour of the onset of symptoms when witnessed or within 24 hours of being seen alive when the death was not witnessed.

Their study included 15,156 participants from the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study which enrolled persons between 45 and 64 years old.  For women with a waist to hip ratio of 0.97 or higher and men with a ratio of 1.01 or higher there was 40% greater chance of sudden cardiac death. While all measures of obesity, including body mass index and waist circumference, could be associated with an increased risk of cardiac disease, only elevated waist hip ratio correlated with an increased risk for sudden cardiac death.

Selcuk Adabag, MD a main researcher in the study made it clear that obesity is “a root cause of problems.”  Physicians need to be paying particular attention to weight gain especially in individuals with a big belly and apple shape and they need to actively work to reduce it. Dr. Selcuk was not sure why belly fat led to sudden death but speculated that belly fat may produce unique inflammatory markers which could lead to heart muscle fibrosis and then arrhythmias and sudden death.

In my practice we are weighing individuals as well as checking heights and body mass index at each visit. This is designed to establish risk of developing severe diseases and preventing them.  We continue to work with our patients to reduce their risk factors.

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