Arq Bras Cardiol Original Article
Cunha et al
2002; 78: 385-7. Heart weight and heart weight/body weight coefficient
Heart Weight and Heart Weight/Body Weight Coefficient
in Malnourished Adults
Daniel Ferreira da Cunha, Selma Freire de Carvalho da Cunha, Marlene Antônia dos Reis,
Vicente de Paula Antunes Teixeira
Uberaba, MG - Brazil
Objective - To compare the heart weight and the Chronic malnutrition results from the inadequate in-
heart weight/body weight coefficient of adults with and take of nutrients, with the predominance of catabolic
without chronic malnutrition. processes over the anabolic ones, and the progressive
wasting of fat and muscle protein body reserves. In adult
Methods - In an initial case series of 210 autopsies individuals, chronic protein-calorie malnutrition man i-
performed in adults, we recorded body and heart weights fests as progressive weight loss with hypofunction and
and calculated the heart weight/body weight coefficients hy potrophy of organs, such as the spleen, intestines,
(HW/BW x 100). The exclusion criteria were as follows: po- and kidneys 1. Experiments with animals2 and autopsies
sitive serology for Chagas’ disease, edema, obesity, heart of malnourished children show that the heart undergoes
diseases, hepatopathies, nephropathies, and systemic ar- hy potrophy proportional to the degree of weight loss 3,4.
terial hypertension. Malnutrition was characterized as a Even though studies on heart morphometry and function
body mass index <18.5kg/m2. Differences with p<0.05 we- of malnourished adults are rare 5, experiments with ani-
re considered significant. mals suggest that the myocardium undergoes a milder
wasting than striated skeletal muscles do, possibly due
Results - Individuals in the malnourished (n=15) to the relative increase in vascularization and oxygena -
and control (n=21) groups were statistically different, tion of the myocardiocytes 6. However, patients quite
respectively, in regard to body mass index (15.9±1.7 frequen tly develop tachycardia, hydric retention, and
versus 21.3±2.5kg/m2), heart weight (267.3±59.8 versus cardiac decompensation during nutritional therapy, and
329.1±50.4g), and the HW/BW coefficient (0.64±0.12 ver- this phenomenon has been attributed to myocardial
sus 0.57±0.09%). A positive and significant correlation d y sfunction associated with cardiac hypotrophy secon-
was observed between heart weight and body mass index dary to malnutrition 7.
(r=0.52), and between heart weight and body weight The heart weight/body weight (HW/BW) coefficient,
(r=0.65). whose normal value is around 0.5±0.02, has been used for
characterizing myocardial hypertrophy 8 and could be used
Conclusion - Malnourished individuals have lighter
for assessing myocardial hypotrophy. A study carried out
hearts and a greater HW/BW coefficient than non-malnouri-
by our group 8, even though with other objectives, showed
shed individuals do. These findings indicate a possible pre-
that individuals dying with cachexia had a HW/BW coeffi-
servation of the myocardium in relation to the intensity of
cient greater than normal. However, the relations between
weight loss associated with the probable relative increase
the HW/BW coefficient and other parameters of nutritional
in cardiac connective tissue and heart blood vessels.
assessment, such as body weight, height, and body mass
index, have not yet been established.
Key words: heart, cardiac hypotrophy, nutrition, protein-
Our hypothesis was that, due to the relative preserva-
tion of cardiac weight in relation to body mass index,
malnourished adults would have a greater HW/BW coeffi-
Faculdade de Medicina do Triângulo Mineiro, Uberaba
Mailing address: Daniel Ferreira da Cunha - Nutrologia - Faculdade de Medicina cient than that of non-malnourished control individuals.
do Triângulo Mineiro - Av. Getúlio Guaritá, 130 - 38025-180 - Uberaba, MG, The objective of our study was to compare heart weight and
Brazil - E-mail: email@example.com
English version by Stela Maris C. e Gandour
the HW/BW coefficient of adults with and without chronic
Arq Bras Cardiol, volume 78 (nº 4), 385-7, 2002
Cunha et al Arq Bras Cardiol
Heart weight and heart weight/body weight coefficient 2002; 78: 385-7.
Methods (13.3 versus 19). No gross or microscopic cardiac alterations
compatible with the diagnoses of degeneration, necrosis,
The study was carried out in the departments of nutri- inflammatory infiltrate, or presence of parasites were
tion and general pathology of the Medical School of Triân- observed.
gulo Mineiro (FMTM), in the city of Uberaba, State of Mi- The patients in the malnourished and control groups
nas Gerais, after approval by the Committee on Medical had similar heights, 1.62±0.12 meters versus 1.65±0.08 me-
Ethics of the university-affiliated hospital. In the first phase, ters, respectively. Malnourished patients, however, had lo-
of a total of 315 autopsies performed at the university-affilia- wer body weight and body mass index than those of the
ted hospital from December 1986 to January 1998, we selec- control group (p<0.05) (tab. I). Heart weight was lower in the
ted 210 reports of complete autopsies performed in adults ol- malnourished patients (267.3±59.8g) as compared with tho-
der than 21 years. se in the control patients (329.1±50.4g), but the HW/BW re-
The major diagnoses established on autopsy and the lation was greater in the malnourished group (0.64±0.12%)
general data of the patients, such as sex, color, age, height, than in the control group (0.57±0.09%). The correlations
body and cardiac weights, were stored in an electronic da- between body weight and heart weight (fig. 1) and between
tabase. Later, patients with chagasic, hypertensive, ische- body mass index and heart weight (fig. 2) were positive and
mic, rheumatic, and pulmonary heart disease were exclu- significant (p<0.05).
ded from the study. Due to the influence of edema on
body weight, patients with anasarca or localized nonin - Discussion
flammatory edema were excluded, as were patients with
signs of chronic hepatopathy (viral hepatitis, alcoholic In our study, we observed that the heart is proportio-
hepatitis, or cirrhosis), glomerulopathy, and with obesity nally heavier in malnourished adults than in non-malnouri-
de fined as a body mass index greater than 27kg/m2 . shed control individuals. This phenomenon may be inter-
Positive serological reactions for Chagas’ disease and the preted as a manifestation of relative heart preservation in
presence of intracardiac thrombosis or pericarditis were regard to the intensity of body weight loss. This interpreta-
also considered exclusion criteria, as was the presence of tion is in accordance with the report of greater HW/BW coef-
morphological renal signs suggestive of chronic renal ficients in thinner individuals as compared with those in in-
insufficiency, which is a condition frequently associated dividuals with a greater body weight 11 and also with the
with cardiomegaly 9. observance of HW/BW coefficients of 0.60±0.13% in indivi-
The nutritional status was characterized by body duals dying due to diseases accompanied by cachexia 8.
mass index, which was calculated by dividing body weight in The exclusion of obese individuals, individuals with
kilos by height in square meters (kg/m2); individuals with bo- heart diseases and with systemic diseases, such as syste-
dy mass index <18.5kg/m2 were considered malnourished 10.
The HW/BW coefficient [heart weight (g)/body weight (g)
x 100] was calculated in all cases 8. After verifying the sta- Table I - Age, anthropometric parameters, and cardiac weight in
tistical normality of the numerical continuous data obtai- malnourished and control adults.
ned, the malnourished and control groups were compared
Parameters Controls Malnourished
using the Student t test. The chi-square test and Fisher
(n = 21) (n = 15)
exact test were used for comparing proportions. Pearson
correlation coefficient was used to assess the correlations Age (years) 44.7 ± 21.8 42.3 ± 18.3
Body mass index (kg/m2 ) 21.3 ± 2.46 15.9 ± 1.69*
between body weight and heart weight, and between body Body weight (kg) 58.2 ± 7.2 41.9 ± 6.7*
mass index and heart weight. Differences with p<0.05 were Cardiac weight (g) 329.1 ± 50.4 267.3 ± 59.8*
considered significant. Cardiac weight/body weight (%) 0.57 ± 0.09 0.64 ± 0.12*
*p < 0.01
We analyzed 36 patients, 15 of whom had protein-ca-
lorie malnutrition and 21 were control individuals. Malnou-
rished patients and control patients did not statistically
Heart weight (g)
differ in regard to, respectively, age (42.3±18.3 versus
44.7±21.8 years), sex proportion (male:female = 11:4 versus
18:5), and color (white:nonwhite = 10:5 versus 16:5). Likewi- r = 0.65
p < 0.01
se, the percentages of the most common diagnoses on auto-
psy for malnourished and control patients were similar and
as follows, respectively: bronchopneumonia (40 versus
38.1), gastritis (40 versus 28.6), acquired immunodeficiency Body weight (kg)
syndrome (26.7 versus 19.9), malignant neoplasias (13.3 Fig. 1 – Correlation between body weight (kg) and cardiac weight (g) in malnouri-
versus19), chronic pancreatitis (13.3 versus 33.3), and sepsis shed and control adults.
Arq Bras Cardiol Cunha et al
2002; 78: 385-7. Heart weight and heart weight/body weight coefficient
ports the finding of a greater heart weight/body weight
Hea rt wei g (g )
coefficient observed in the present study.
However, we also observed a positive and significant
correlation between body weight and heart weight (r=0.65),
r = 0.52
p < 0.01 and also between heart weight and body mass index
(r=0.52), which indicates that the thinner the individual, the
lower his heart weight is. Likewise, according to morpho-
metric studies on myocardiocytes 5, individuals with ad-
BMI (kg/m2 )
vanced malnutrition have greater degrees of heart hypotro-
Fig. 2 - Correlation between body mass index (BMI) and heart weight in malnouri-
shed and control adults.
phy 13. This fact may have clinical repercussions, such as a
prolonged QTc interval on the electrocardiogram 14, a lower
cardiac output 2, and a higher risk of developing the
refeeding syndrome, a condition in which cardiac decom-
mic arterial hypertension or chronic renal insufficiency, re-
pensation would result from myocardial dysfunction
duced the possibility of the concomitance of conditions
associated with cardiac hypotrophy secondary to malnutri-
causing myocardial hypertrophy or cardiac dilation 12. Li- tion 7. These data indicate that if myocardium undergoes
kewise, the exclusion of patients with edema or cavitary ef- hypotrophy, the same seems not to happen to the connecti-
fusions also increased the reliability of the anthropometry ve tissue in the heart 3,5, a fact supported by the greater tor-
in assessing nutritional status 10. tuosity of the coronary vessels and the disproportion bet-
According to the criteria used in this study, which did ween the size of the hypotrophic heart and the great ves-
not include individuals with protein malnutrition of the sels, which are not affected by malnutrition.
kwashiorkor type 1, we can state that a predominance of In conclusion, even though a relative preservation of
individuals with malnutrition of the marasmus type occur- cardiac weight in adults with marasmus has been reported,
red. This malnutrition results from prolonged negative calo- the results of our study also show cardiac hypotrophy
rie balance, characterized by a marked wasting of body fat associated with severe chronic malnutrition. Further studies
reserves and a relative preservation of muscle mass. Even may clarify whether at least part of the maintenance of the
though the type of malnutrition is rarely detailed in studies cardiac weight results from the relative increase in the con-
performed with adults 1, the heart has been reported to be nective tissue, which would be more preserved than the
relatively spared in prolonged malnutrition 1,3,4, which sup- muscular one during prolonged starvation.
1. McMahon MM, Bistrian BR. The physiology of nutritional assessment and 9. Suzuki H, Schaefer L, Ling H, et al. Prevention of cardiac hypertrophy in experi-
therapy in protein-calorie malnutrition. Dis Mon 1990; 36: 373-417. mental chronic renal failure by long-term ACE inhibitor administration: poten-
2. Alden PB, Madoff RD, Stahl TJ, Lakatua DJ, Ring WS, Cerra FB. Left ventricular tial role of lysosomal proteinases. Am J Nephrol 1995; 15: 129-36.
function in malnutrition. Am J Physiol 1987; 253: H380-7. 10. James WP, Ferro-Luzzi A, Waterlow JC. Definition of chronic energy deficiency
3. Webb JG, Kiess MC, Chan-Yan CC. Malnutrition and the heart. Can Med Assoc in adults: report of a working party of the International Dietary Energy Consul-
J 1986; 135: 753-8. tative Group. Eur J Clin Nutr 1988; 42: 969-81.
4. Freeman LM, Roubenoff R. The nutrition implications of cardiac cachexia. Nutr 11. Hanzlick R, Rydzewski D. Heart weights of white men 20 to 39 years of age: an
Rev 1994; 52: 340-7. analysis of 218 autopsy cases. Am J Forensic Med Pathol 1990; 11: 202-4.
5. Cunha DF, Pedrini CH, Sousa JC, et al. Estudo morfométrico do miocárdio em 12. Warnes CA, Roberts WC. The heart in massive (more than 300 pounds or 136 ki-
adultos com subnutrição protéico-energética. Arq Bras Cardiol 1998; 71: 677-80. lograms) obesity: analysis of 12 patients studied at necropsy. Am J Cardiol 1984;
6. Vandewoude MF. Morphometric changes in microvasculature in rat myocardium 54: 1087-91.
during malnutrition. J Parenter Enteral Nutr 1995; 19: 376-80. 13. Vandewoude MF, Cortvrindt RG, Goovaerts MF, Van Paesschen MA, Buyssens
7. Brooks MJ, Melnik GM. The refeeding syndrome: an approach to understanding its N. Malnutrition and the heart: a microscopic analysis. Infusionstherapie 1988;
complications and preventing its occurence. Pharmacotherapy 1995; 15: 713-26. 15: 217-20.
8. Almeida HO, Teixeira VPA, Araújo WF. Comportamento do peso do coração e do corpo 14. Cunha DF, Cunha SFC, Ferreira TPS, et al. Prolonged QTc intervals on the electro-
em chagásicos crônicos com e sem “megas”. Rev Soc Bras Med Trop 1979; 13: 85-9. cardiograms of hospitalized malnourished adults. Nutrition 2001; 17: 370-2.