Body composition and surgical treatment of obesity. Effects of weight loss on fluid distribution.


Obesity is associated with absolute and relative expansion of the extracellular water compartment (ECW). The effects of substantial and prolonged weight reduction on body water distribution are unknown, however. The authors studied total body water (TBW) by tritiated water dilution, ECW by 35SO4 dilution, exchangeable sodium (Na(e)) by 24Na, and total body potassium (TBK) by 40K whole-body counting in 25 severely obese women (body mass index [BMI] = 48 +/- 7 kg.m-2, mean +/- standard deviation) aged 36 +/- 8 years before and at intervals after gastric restrictive (GR; n = 12) and malabsorptive (MA; n = 13) operations for obesity. Results are compared with a control group of 26 healthy normal-weight women (BMI = 21 +/- 2). Before operation, the obese patients had absolute elevations of all water compartments compared with controls, with significantly higher ratios of Na(e) to TBK (1.17 +/- 0.13 versus 0.91 +/- 0.10; p less than 0.05) and ECW to intracellular water (ICW) (E/I = 0.82 +/- 0.17 versus 0.63 +/- 0.06; p less than 0.05). After weight loss of 52 +/- 20 kg in MA and 47 +/- 19 kg in GR patients (nonsignificant between groups) to a stable level 22 +/- 8 months after operation, there were statistically significant reductions in TBW, ICW, TBK, and Na(e) in both groups, but a significant reduction in ECW only after GR. Adjusting for preoperative weight, duration of follow-up, and rate of weight loss, E/I was greater after MA than GR (1.09 +/- 0.25 versus 0.82 +/- 0.14; p less than 0.05). The elevated preoperative E/I ratio did not normalize with weight loss after surgery, and the response was related to the type of operation. The finding remains to be explained although the increased E/I after MA may reflect mild protein-calorie malnutrition not detectable in the blood. The persistence of elevated E/I with significant weight loss after GR might imply an intrinsic or irreversible imbalance of fluid distribution in obese patients.

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