Bariatric Surgery

Bariatric surgery is a surgical treatment for patients who are seriously obese or obese with another dangerous medical condition. There are several types of bariatric surgery, each of which makes surgical changes to the stomach and digestive tract which limit how much food can be ingested and how much nutrition can be absorbed. All types of bariatric surgery are performed to promote weight loss.

Reasons for Bariatric Surgery

Since morbid obesity can lead to early mortality and interferes with quality of life, patients who are unable to lose weight through diet and exercise may decide, with medical consultation, that bariatric surgery is a good solution. Morbid obesity is usually defined as having a body mass index, or BMI, of 40 or more. In male patients, this translates into being 100 pounds or more over ideal body weight. In female patients, it means the patient is carrying an excess of 80 pounds or more.

Morbid obesity not only interferes with normal daily activities, but can also lead to many serious medical conditions, including type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, severe sleep apnea and cancer. A patient may become morbidly obese for a variety of reasons, including genetic, environmental and psychological factors.

Candidates for Bariatric Surgery

Bariatric surgery is a last resort for weight loss and is never undertaken lightly. Patients are carefully screened to determine if they are good candidates for the procedure. Insurance will cover the procedure only if it is deemed medically necessary. Patient guidelines for the surgery must be met. These may include:

  • 18 years of age or older
  • History of inability to lose weight with diet, exercise or medication
  • BMI of 40 or higher, indicating morbid obesity
  • BMI of 35 to 39.9 combined with a serious weight-related medical problem
  • Slightly lower BMI if combined with an extremely serious weight-related medical condition

Candidates for bariatric surgery must be motivated to make permanent lifestyle changes since the surgery alone does not guarantee permanent weight loss. In the screening for patients for whom bariatric surgery is appropriate, physicians investigate the following:

  • Medical conditions
  • Nutrition and weight history
  • Psychological status
  • Personal motivation
  • Age

It is possible for patients who do not follow directives about diet and exercise to regain weight after the procedure.

Types of Bariatric Surgery

There are several different types of bariatric surgery, but there are two basic ways in which such procedures affect weight loss. Bariatric surgery can help to limit the amount of food ingested or it can restrict the amount of food digested. Some bariatric procedures work in both ways. Most focus on reducing the size of the stomach. When the stomach is smaller, the patient feels full sooner and presumably ingests less food. Some bariatric surgery procedures prevent the small intestine from absorbing all of the calories taken in which also results in weight loss. The latter surgeries are highly successful in weight loss, but carry risks of malnutrition and vitamin deficiencies.

Bariatric surgery may be performed laparoscopically or as open surgery, depending on the patient's overall health. Generally speaking, laparoscopic procedures are more desirable since they result in smaller incisions, less pain and scarring, shorter recovery time and fewer risks. Types of bariatric surgery include:

  • Gastric bypass or gastric diversion
  • Sleeve gastrectomy
  • Roux-en-Y stomach bypass

Laparoscopic procedures are often more desirable since they result in smaller incisions, less pain and scarring, shorter recovery time and fewer risks.

Risks of Bariatric Surgery

Immediate surgical risks of bariatric surgery may include excessive bleeding, blood clots, damage to adjacent organs and an adverse reaction to anesthesia. Longer term risks and complications of weight-loss surgery vary according to the type of surgery performed and may include:

  • Bowel obstruction
  • Gastric dumping syndrome, including vomiting and diarrhea
  • Gallstones
  • Incisional hernia
  • Hypoglycemia, low blood sugar
  • Malnutrition
  • Ulcers

While there are risks associated with bariatric surgery, there is often greater risk to the patient in remaining morbidly obese. In spite of the risks of bariatric procedures, the mortality rate is very low.

Recovery from Bariatric Surgery

Following surgery, most patients remain in the hospital for several days. Many patients are able to return to work after 2 weeks. Patients are usually able to manage at home without assistance if they follow the instructions and restrictions given by their doctor.

Results of Bariatric Surgery

Patients can expect to be in much better health after bariatric surgery than they were before this surgical intervention. In most cases, obesity-related illnesses improve after surgery. In many cases, they disappear completely. During a normal recovery, weight loss occurs rapidly during the first months and may continue for as long as 2 years. Patients who have gastric bypass can expect to lose 60 percent of their body weight. Patients who have banding can look forward to a loss of 45 percent. After bariatric surgery, patients have to readjust to a different body and be prepared to adopt permanent lifestyle changes in order to reap the full benefits of the procedure.

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