By Amy Norton
TUESDAY, Oct. 16, 2018 (HealthDay News) -- Obesity surgery may help prevent heart attacks and strokes in people who are severely overweight and have diabetes, a new large study suggests.
It's already known that obesity surgery can help people shed pounds and better control health conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure.
But it has not been clear whether that translates into fewer heart attacks and strokes down the road.
Researchers said the new findings suggest the answer is "yes."
The study team found that severely obese patients who had the surgery were 40 percent less likely to suffer a heart attack or stroke over five years, versus those on standard diabetes care.
Those who had the surgery were also two-thirds less likely to die during the study period, according to the report published Oct. 16 in the Journal of the American Medical Association .
"If we had a pill that could do that, we'd all be prescribing it," said study co-author Dr. David Arterburn.
For most people, medication, diet and exercise are the cornerstones of managing type 2 diabetes. But for people with severe obesity, that might not be enough, said Arterburn, a senior investigator with Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute, in Seattle.
He said he hopes the new findings prompt more doctors and patients to discuss surgery as an option.
That said, the study was not a clinical trial that directly tested obesity surgery against standard diabetes care. It was an "observational" study where the researchers compared the medical records of people who underwent obesity surgery, and similar patients who stuck with standard care.
Those types of studies do not prove cause-and-effect, Arterburn explained.
Still, the new findings offer the "best available evidence" that obesity surgery can ultimately prevent heart attacks and strokes, he said.
According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), obesity surgery may be an option for people with a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or higher -- about 100 pounds or more overweight.
People with less-severe obesity (a BMI of at least 35) may be candidates if they have conditions such as diabetes or sleep apnea.