Recent research on liver transplant recipients shows that patients have an increased risk of metabolic syndrome after the transplantation surgery. According to one study conducted by Eric R. Kallwitz, M.D., a liver specialist from the Loyola University Medical Center, about 58 percent of patients develop metabolic syndrome after undergoing a liver transplant.

Metabolic syndrome is a combination of several conditions, which may include high blood pressure, high fasting blood sugar, high LD cholesterol levels, high triglyceride levels and obesity. Generally, patients who suffer from at least three of these conditions are diagnosed with metabolic syndrome.

Individuals who are at an increased risk of metabolic syndrome are also at a significantly higher risk for diabetes, stroke and heart disease. Kallwitz’s study, published by the International Liver Transplantation Society and the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases in the Liver Transplantation journal, suggests that the onset of metabolic syndrome after liver transplantation may be reduced by exercise.

Many patients waiting for a liver transplant from an organ donor are underweight due to the illness that is correlated with liver cancer or liver failure. However, once transplant surgery is completed, many patients begin to increase their body weight as they recover.

The study showed that more than half of transplant recipients were inactive after surgery, also adding to weight gain; just 25 percent of those studied were getting the recommended amount of aerobic exercise weekly. Along with weight gain, the study noted that anti-rejection drugs may increase certain metabolic syndrome complications, specifically elevated blood-sugar level and abnormally high blood pressure.

Kallwitz focused his study on metabolic syndrome and physical activity in patients following liver transplant surgery. While all subjects in the study experienced a higher risk of metabolic syndrome, those exercising regularly had a lower mean metabolic equivalent. Patients with pretransplant diabetes and older patients experienced an even higher risk of post transplantation metabolic syndrome.

This recent study is not the first to show the increased risk of metabolic syndrome in liver transplant recipients. In 2007, the Liver Transplant journal published information postulating that metabolic syndrome was a common occurrence post-liver transplantation. Information from the Multi-Organ Transplant Program database was reviewed, showing a high percentage of patients had metabolic syndrome, and 21 percent of those patients studied suffered significant vascular events as well.

Kallwitz took his study even further, and while concluding that liver transplant recipients do experience an increased risk of transplantation, his study also concluded that physical activity may reduce these complications. According to Kallwitz, “Our findings suggest that exercise could help reduce metabolic syndrome complications in liver transplant recipients. Given the early onset of metabolic abnormalities following transplant, an effective intervention such as a structured exercise program during the first year after surgery, may benefit liver transplant patients.”

With the new information presented by Kallwitz’s study, physicians treating patients after liver transplantation may need to consider addressing this increased risk of metabolic syndrome. After informing patients that metabolic syndrome increases the risk of diabetes, heart disease and stroke, physicians can recommend exercise programs to patients to help reduce the risk of these complications.

By working to reach the recommended number of hours of aerobic exercise each week, liver transplant recipients may be able to reduce the risks of potential negative consequences of the surgery and enjoy better recovery post transplantation.