A person's feet stepping on to a scale.

June 8, 2020

While doctors are still working to develop a comprehensive clinical picture of COVID-19, one thing has become clear: Certain groups, including older people and people of all ages with serious underlying health conditions, including obesity, are at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19.

Memorial Hermann affiliated bariatric surgeon John Primomo, MD, explores the linkages between obesity, obesity-related chronic health conditions (such as diabetes and heart disease) and an increased risk of developing COVID-related complications, and shares steps you can take to minimize your risk.

Obesity and COVID-19

As. Dr. Primomo explains, “We don’t know yet exactly why people who are obese are more likely to suffer complications from COVID-19, but we do know that being obese causes chronic inflammation, which triggers the production of proteins called cytokines. Some patients with COVID-19 have developed a serious condition known as cytokine storm syndrome (CSS), an immune response where the body produces cytokines to fight off the virus but ends up attacking its own cells and tissues. CSS can be serious, even leading to heart failure.”

Another contributing factor may be the linkage between obesity and respiratory problems. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Severe obesity increases the risk of a serious breathing problem called acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), which is a major complication of COVID-19 and can cause difficulties with a doctor’s ability to provide respiratory support for seriously ill patients. People living with severe obesity can have multiple serious chronic diseases and underlying health conditions that can increase the risk of severe illness from COVID-19.”

Obesity and Your Risk of Other Dangerous Health Conditions

“Losing weight is less about improving your appearance and sense of wellbeing—although both are positive outcomes—and more about reducing your risk of life-threatening medical conditions. COVID aside, people who are affected by obesity—individuals with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more—have an increased risk of developing more than 40 diseases and health conditions, including type 2 diabetes, infertility, obstructive sleep apnea, orthopedic problems, certain types of cancer, high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke,” says Dr. Primomo.

Explore Your Options

If you or a family member is overweight, explore weight loss options. “Start with a visit to your primary care physician who will evaluate your overall health, including your body mass index (BMI), your blood pressure and your blood sugar and cholesterol levels. He or she can help you develop a plan that includes exercise and nutrition and, if necessary, can help you manage related health conditions, such as diabetes or high blood pressure,” says Dr. Primomo.

If your BMI is 35 or more and you’ve been unable to lose weight through diet and exercise, metabolic surgery might enable you to lose and keep the weight off. In addition to helping you lose weight, some bariatric surgeries can actually change your metabolism, enabling you to resolve chronic health conditions, including type 2 diabetes.

Studies have shown among patients undergoing metabolic surgery:

  • Up to 84% with type 2 diabetes became insulin free within days of surgery.
  • Up to 75% were resolved of high blood pressure.
  • Up to 95% saw improved high cholesterol levels.
  • Up to 98% were relieved of gastric reflux/GERD.
  • Up to 80% experienced complete resolution of metabolic syndrome.
  • Up to 41% were relieved of osteoarthritis and knee joint pain.

While it is clear that many patients benefit from metabolic surgery, what works for one patient may not be right for another. It’s important to be evaluated by a trained bariatric specialist, one who is well versed and capable of performing multiple types of surgeries.

Memorial Hermann NewStart

Memorial Hermann performs more bariatric surgery procedures than any other program in Houston. We are a fully accredited Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery Accreditation and Quality Improvement Program (MBSAQIP) Center by the American College of Surgeons (ACS), which means that in addition to tracking our patients’ weight loss, we also track improvements in their related conditions, including type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure. From initial evaluation and no-obligation insurance verification, to surgery and follow-up care, we work hand-in-hand with patients to help them stay on track.

To schedule an appointment with a primary care physician, visit memorialhermann.org/doctors or call (713) 222-CARE(2273).

To learn more about surgical weight loss options, or to schedule an appointment with a bariatric surgeon, visit NewStart.

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