If you’re an obese heart patient, weight-loss surgery might be good medicine for you.

New research suggests it significantly reduces the risk of heart failure and fatal heart attack in this vulnerable group.

“Our findings suggest, for the first time, that bariatric [weight-loss] surgery can prevent the development of systolic heart failure and remarkably reduce death from recurrent myocardial infarction, or heart attack, in patients with a higher cardiovascular risk than the average population,” said study author Dr. David Funes. He is a research fellow at the Bariatric and Metabolic Institute at Cleveland Clinic Weston, in Florida.

For the study, Funes and his team compared severely obese people with heart disease who had weight-loss surgery (8,200) with those who did not have the surgery (79,000).

Nearly half of the weight-loss surgery patients also had a history of some form of diabetes, and about 73% had high blood pressure. But those who didn’t have weight-loss surgery had even higher rates of both diseases, which are risk factors for heart disease.

Obesity itself is a major risk factor for heart disease.

Patients who didn’t have weight-loss surgery were 1.9 times more likely to develop heart failure than those who had the surgery, according to the study.

In addition, the investigators found that patients who had weight-loss surgery were 2.5 times less likely to die from a recurrent heart attack than those who didn’t have the surgery.

A history of diabetes, which improves in most patients after weight-loss surgery, considerably increased the risk of heart failure in patients who’d previously suffered a heart attack.

The study was to be presented Tuesday at the annual meeting of the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery (ASMBS), in Las Vegas. Such research is considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Dr. Eric DeMaria is ASMBS president and chief of East Carolina University’s division of general/bariatric surgery. “Metabolic surgery has been proven to have significant cardiovascular benefits and needs to be considered as part of the treatment plan for patients with severe obesity and coronary artery disease,” he said in a society news release.

“The key is to treat obesity sooner rather than later to slow the progression of heart disease, reduce other risk factors including hypertension and diabetes, and preserve heart function,” DeMaria added.

Nearly 40% of U.S. adults (over 93 million Americans) were obese in 2015-2016, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 24 million of these adults are severely obese, according to the ASMBS.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases has more on weight-loss surgery.