Obesity Protects Heart Failure Patients from Sudden Cardiac Death

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

Researchers from University of Rochester studied the “obesity paradox”, hoping to disprove past studies showing that obese heart patients are less likely to die from sudden cardiac death than patients who are thinner. Using advanced analysis methods, Bonnie Choy, co-lead author and second year medical student says, “…we still the saw an inverse relationship between BMI and sudden cardiac death.”

The study also examined the effect of implantable cardiac defibrillators (ICD), comparing obese heart failure patients to non-obese, finding benefits primarily in the thinner group of patients. The device, also called an AICD is implanted under the skin much like a pacemaker. Electrodes attached to the heart detect abnormal heart rhythm that can lead to sudden death, defibrillating (shocking) the heart back into rhythm. ICD’s were found to be more effective in patients with lower BMI’s.


Researchers don’t know why obesity protects heart failure patients from sudden cardiac death. Eric Hansen, co-lead author and also a second year medical student at the University of Rochester says, “Obese patients are hard on their bodies; many don’t eat right, don’t exercise, and many smoke. If their bodies are surviving this bad treatment then perhaps they are better equipped, from a genetic standpoint, to live with heart failure.”

One half of all cardiac deaths occur as the result of sudden heart rhythm disturbance that claims 330,000 lives annually in the US. Some drugs contribute to sudden death from heart failure. Coronary artery disease can also contribute to sudden death. The findings that obesity protects heart failure patients from sudden cardiac death support past studies, but the reasons why remain unclear.

University of Rochester Newsroom