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How does obesity affect your heart muscle?

Your heart is a muscle that functions like a pump to circulate blood through the arteries and veins of your body. Your blood carries oxygen and nutrients that support the healthy functioning of your body’s tissues. Obesity can interfere with this process by contributing to cardiovascular disease risk factors such as high blood pressure and diabetes. However, it also can harm the heart muscle more directly. 

When a person is obese, that person’s volume of circulating blood goes up. This means that the heart has to pump a greater volume of blood with each heartbeat, which puts strain on the heart over time. Additionally, the heartbeat is governed by a series of electrical impulses in the heart muscle. Essentially, your heart has a natural pacemaker. Obesity can cause abnormal heart rhythms called arrhythmias, which, when severe, can lead to the heart stopping (cardiac arrest). A long-term, well-respected research study called the Framingham Heart Study found that the rate of sudden cardiac death in obese adults was approximately 40 times higher than for nonobese adults.

The good news is that even modest weight loss can reduce cardiovascular risk factors and improve heart health. Anyone who wishes to begin a weight loss program should discuss options with his or her physician.


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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.