Weight loss and heart failure share a connection. People living with heart failure may experience unexpected and extreme weight loss, known as cardiac cachexia.

When weight loss occurs with heart failure, it is known as cardiac cachexia. This condition is associated with an increased mortality rate among people living with heart failure.

The following article reviews how heart failure and weight loss relate to each other, with a focus on cardiac cachexia.

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Research is somewhat lacking when it comes to how rapid weight loss affects the heart. What is known is that rapid weight loss may be bad for people living with cardiovascular disease.

Research from 2019 noted several positive impacts of rapid weight loss due to very low calorie diets, including improved insulin resistance in people who are overweight or obese. They also noted that a person on a very low calorie diet of 800 calories per day also experiences transient but significant cardiovascular function decline.

However, they noted that the highest risk occurs in people living with cardiovascular disease. In addition, the effects on the heart reversed or normalized within 8 weeks of starting the diet.

Learn how to reach or maintain a moderate weight in a healthy way here.

Several conditions and events can trigger heart palpitations. Heart palpitations include the heart beating too fast, too hard, skipping beats, or a feeling of fluttering in the chest.

Though weight loss itself may not cause heart palpitations, some things that accompany it may. For example, diet pills, exercise, caffeine intake, nutritional disturbances, or electrolyte abnormalities can trigger heart palpitations.

In addition, research has shown that low carb diets may significantly increase a person’s risk factor for atrial fibrillation (A-fib). A-fib can cause symptoms such as heart palpitations and can increase the risk of stroke.

Learn more potential causes of heart palpitations here.

In one 2019 observational study, researchers noted increased cases of premature death, including from heart disease, in people who had lost weight after experiencing obesity after the age of 47.

The study authors recommend that younger individuals take steps to prevent weight gain throughout their life.

In another study, researchers noted an increased mortality rate in people living with congestive heart failure who experienced weight loss compared with those who did not lose weight. They noted that the risk was highest in people with obesity.

However, it is important to remember that weight loss can be unintentional. For example, people with cancer may experience weight loss and mortality due to the condition.

Weight loss can still be healthy

Losing excess weight can be an effective way to reduce a person’s risk of several potentially life threatening conditions. These include:

Research is more extensive in these benefits than the possible cardiac risks of sudden weight loss in some groups.

Findings from one observational study may not be representative of potential results from a randomized group. The benefits of losing excess weight may far outweigh the possible cardiac risks associated with a sudden drop in weight.

People living with heart failure can develop rapid weight loss. This is known as cardiac cachexia, and the outlook for people with the condition is not positive due to an increased risk of mortality.

Cardiac cachexia is a condition that causes a person to lose weight, skeletal mass, and muscle mass. It can also cause inflammation and affect several organs.

The condition can cause a person to have an increased risk of death regardless of other risk factors associated with heart disease.

Symptoms of cardiac cachexia can include any of the following:

These symptoms can negatively impact a person’s quality of life.

The exact cause of cardiac cachexia is not clear.

Researchers do know it is multifaceted. They also know that several underlying factors may contribute to its development, including:

Cardiac cachexia is associated with an increased risk of premature death, independent of other risk factors, such as age or overall health.

A person living with cardiac cachexia will therefore have an increased risk of death even if they have no other risk factors that would indicate a shortened lifespan.

A person living with heart failure or heart disease should speak with a doctor if they experience unexplained weight loss. This could be a sign they have developed cardiac cachexia.

A doctor will likely ask the person questions about their symptoms and determine how much weight they have lost. Though diagnosis criteria can vary, many doctors diagnose cardiac cachexia after noting more than 5% weight loss over 12 months or a BMI of less than 20.

In addition, a person will have experienced at least three of the following:

Most researchers suggest that increasing food intake, supplements, and exercise may help with maintaining a moderate weight. Doctors may recommend a person focus on these aspects to help prevent and treat cardiac cachexia, but treating underlying heart function also improves cardiac cachexia.

In a 2019 study, researchers recommended that doctors and other medical professionals also focus on psychological and behavioral factors. Strategies to address how a person eats and feels may help with preventing and treating cachexia.

Learn about how much a person should weigh for their height and age here.

Weight loss can occur as a result of heart failure. However, it is not likely that healthy people who experience weight loss or achieve a moderate body weight will develop any significant cardiovascular issues.

Cardiac cachexia is a serious condition that occurs alongside heart failure. It results in skeletal and muscle wasting as well as weight loss. It can cause symptoms such as muscle weakness and fatigue.

A person may be able to prevent and treat the condition with a focus on eating and exercise as well as through addressing any underlying psychological conditions that may affect how they eat.