Weight loss jabs could improve the symptoms of heart failure in obese patients, a new study has found.
US researchers found that semaglutide – sold under the brand name Wegovy – could be used to treat overweight people with a condition called heart failure with preserved ejection fraction (HFpEF).
The condition causes the heart to become too stiff to fill properly. Symptoms include shortness of breath, swelling and physical limitations that can lead to a poor quality of life.
The trial included 529 patients, all of whom had a body mass index of more than 30, as well as heart failure symptoms and psychical limitations. One group was given a once-weekly 2.4 mg of Wegovy while the other was given a placebo.
Researchers tracked changes in body weight as well as changes to heart failure-related symptoms using the clinical summary score (CSS) of the Kansas City Cardiomyopathy Questionnaire (KCCQ). This includes questions on how heart failure symptoms, such as breathless or fatigue, impact a patient’s ability to perform normal tasks and quality of life.
They also assessed whether patients were able to perform better walking for six minutes.
Body weight for those on Wegovy fell by a mean of 13.3 per cent compared to 2.6 per cent in the placebo group, the study found.
After 52 weeks, the mean change on the KCCQ-CSS was nearly twice as high for patients on Wegovy compared to those in the placebo group - meaning symptoms had reduced significantly.
Patients who received Wegovy were able to walk 20.5 metres further in a six minute period, compared with the placebo group.
Dr Mikhail Kosiborod, of Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute in Kansas City, was principal investigator on the study.
He said Wegovy “produced large improvements in symptoms, physical limitations and exercise function, reduced inflammation, and resulted in greater weight loss and fewer serious adverse events as compared with placebo”.
“To our knowledge, this is the first trial of a pharmacologic agent to specifically target obesity as a treatment strategy for HFpEF, and the magnitude of the benefits we observed is the largest seen with any agent in HFpEF,” he added.
“This will likely have a significant impact on clinical practice, especially since there is a dearth of efficacious therapies in this vulnerable patient group.
“We believe that these findings should also change the nature of the conversation about the role of obesity in HFpEF, as the Step-HFpEF results clearly indicate that obesity is not simply a comorbidity in patients with HFpEF but a root cause and a target for therapeutic intervention.”
Dr Sonya Babu-Narayan, Associate Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation and consultant cardiologist, said: “Only a few years ago, drugs that could help people to achieve life-changing weight loss felt like a far-off dream. But now they are here. This study demonstrates that semaglutide is not only safe for people with this type of heart failure but it also has important benefits for their quality of life.
“For some people, living with heart failure can make everyday activities difficult or even impossible. The kind of improvements seen in this study, such as being able to walk further, could have a transformational impact on someone’s life.”
Earlier this month, trial results showed that patients on Wegovy had a 20 per cent lower incidence of heart attack, stroke or heart disease compared to those on a placebo.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) gave approval for the use of appetite suppressant earlier this year, but said it should only be available through specialist services which are largely hospital-based.
In June, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced a £40 million pilot scheme to increase access to specialist weight management services. This includes looking at how GPs could safely prescribe the drugs and how the NHS can provide support in the community or online.