Background: Obese people frequently suffer from shortness of breath and chest discomfort on exertion, and they often have a sedentary lifestyle. In the present study of patients with severe obesity, we investigated the effects of surgically induced weight loss on cardiorespiratory symptoms and leisure-time physical activity.
Methods: The Swedish Obese Subjects study is an ongoing intervention trial of obesity consisting of 1 surgically treated group and 1 matched control group. Information on smoking habits, hypertension, diabetes, and sleep apnea was obtained from 1210 surgical cases and 1099 controls who were observed for 2 years. Patients were also asked about symptoms of breathlessness and chest pain and their levels of leisure-time physical activity.
Results: The surgically treated group displayed a mean weight loss of 28 kg (23%) compared with the control group in which the average weight remained unchanged (P<.001). The rates of hypertension, diabetes, and apneas during sleep decreased in surgical cases compared with controls (P<.001), while smoking habits remained largely the same. The surgical group also displayed highly significant improvements in dyspnea and chest pain and increases in physical activity compared with the control group (P<.001). The odds ratio for self-reported breathlessness, chest discomfort, or sedentary behavior after 2 years decreased progressively with the degree of weight loss. Furthermore, patients who recovered from apneas during sleep reduced their odds of having dyspnea and chest discomfort at follow-up, independent of changes in weight.
Conclusions: Surgically induced weight loss in patients with severe obesity is associated with a marked relief in symptoms of dyspnea and chest pain and promotes increased leisure-time physical activity. Sleep-disordered breathing may be involved in the pathophysiology of breathlessness and chest discomfort in obese subjects.