The obesity epidemic in the United States keeps getting worse. After years of attempting and failing to permanently lose weight through diet and exercise, many people consider undergoing bariatric surgery. For those who struggle with obesity, weight loss surgery can prolong life and is often the best choice for substantial, long-term weight loss. A qualified bariatric surgery program will provide patient education detailing how these surgeries work and what to expect, which is essential for a successful outcome.
What are the Benefits and Risks of Weight Loss Surgery?
Losing weight through bariatric surgery and keeping it off will improve the quality of your life. The American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery indicates that over 90% of bariatric surgery patients successfully maintain a long-term weight loss of 50% of excess weight. Keeping weight off leads to better health.
Benefits of Bariatric Surgery
Weight loss surgery can significantly improve or resolve the following conditions:
- High blood pressure
- Severe sleep apnea
- High cholesterol
In addition, when patients meet their weight loss goals, they can also reduce their risk of heart disease, stroke, and cancer.
What are the Risks?
All surgery has risks, including infection, bleeding, and cardiopulmonary problems, but the risks of remaining obese are far more significant than those of undergoing bariatric surgery. With the development of minimally invasive laparoscopic surgery and accreditation standards, the risks associated with bariatric surgery are low. The National Institute of Heal (NIH) notes that the incidence of death within 30 days after bariatric surgery is 0.3%. Gastric band surgery is the least risky, followed by sleeve gastrectomy, gastric bypass, and duodenal switch.
Complications or death following weight loss surgery depends on several factors, including the patient’s medical condition before surgery and the bariatric surgeon’s experience performing the procedure.
Bariatric surgery has specific problems you should consider. Many patients must take specific supplements to avoid vitamin deficiencies. Less common complications include bowel obstruction, dumping syndrome, gallstones, hernias, and stomach perforation. Your medical team will closely track your progress and health to avoid those problems.
Deciding on a Bariatric Surgery Procedure
Many patients come to a bariatric surgery program with an idea of what surgery they want. They may know of someone who had particular success with gastric bypass, or they prefer a less invasive procedure like a gastric sleeve. However, your bariatric surgeon will consider many factors to recommend the best weight loss surgery for you, including your body mass index (BMI), eating habits, and health problems. Most patients who are morbidly obese with a BMI over 40 will have more invasive surgeries with restrictive components that suppress appetite, and malabsorptive components. Everyone’s situation is different, which is why patient education is so important. Get as much information as possible, including what postoperative complications you may face, to feel confident with your decision.
Just as important is selecting the best bariatric surgery center. Ask for information at your first appointment on the practice’s bariatric surgeons, how many weight loss surgery procedures they have performed, and the rate of serious complications. Although you can’t prevent every risk or complication, choosing a reputable practice will help avoid them. Make sure the hospital where they perform bariatric surgery procedures is accredited.
Weight Loss Surgery is Only the Beginning
A good candidate for any bariatric procedure is one who will put the time and effort into the necessary lifestyle changes, including becoming more physically active through regular exercise and following new eating habits to continue to lose weight and prevent weight gain. Bariatric surgery is only a tool as it changes your digestive system by creating a small stomach pouch and, with some procedures, rerouting the small intestine to limit the body’s ability to absorb calories.
Ask yourself if you are at a point in your life where you have the time and ability to achieve weight loss success. The significant changes you will encounter as you begin your new life can bring about stress and turmoil if not appropriately handled. For at least two years after surgery, you will need to follow up on a regular basis with your medical team to ensure you’re progressing with weight loss. You’ll need frequent blood tests, especially during the first year, so you don’t develop malnutrition or vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
Bariatric Surgery Challenges
Sure, the prospect of losing so much weight through surgery is exciting, but many people aren’t prepared for the physical and emotional changes, reactions from friends and loved ones, and more that can accompany recovery.
Managing abdominal pain in the weeks following surgery can be challenging. The early stage of recovery can last up to six weeks. Taper prescription pain medications, according to your doctor’s recommendations. Bariatric patients should not take NSAIDs like ibuprofen, as these can cause marginal ulcers in the stomach.
You must follow up regularly with your medical team to ensure you’re progressing with weight loss. You’ll need periodic blood tests, especially during the first year, so you don’t develop malnutrition or vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
Physical challenges can include dumping syndrome, which includes nausea, vomiting, weakness caused by consuming high-sugar food and high-calories liquids, possible wound infection, and leaks in new digestive system connections. Many patients experience body aches, fatigue, chills, dry or sagging skin, and hair loss. The inability to process vitamins B12 and D and iron, folate, and calcium may cause problems.
Getting used to new eating habits can cause stress. Your new diet will consist of only liquids at first and then slowly progress to pureed and soft foods before progressing to solid foods. However, many morbidly obese people experience food grief, mourning for lost foods that they cannot consume anymore because of dietary restrictions.
Other negative effects include a loss of self-esteem and mood swings that may occur as you go through your weight loss journey. Weight loss may be dramatic sometimes, but you will also suffer setbacks like plateaus and weight gain. You may obsess about one body part or another as your shape changes.
Take time for yourself and ask for help. Consider joining a support group for bariatric patients, even before you go in for surgery. Communicating with patients who have been through similar experiences allows you to anticipate what to expect. One of the most important things you should know before committing to weight loss surgery is that it is not a quick fix. Weight loss is something you will have to work at for the rest of your life.