For millions of people around the world, chronic obesity is simply a part of their everyday existence. It affects nearly every aspect of their lives, from their ability to perform basic tasks such as shopping and driving to how they perceive themselves and measure their own worth. Aside from the psychological and physical hardships created by excess weight, the risk of serious health conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, and certain types of cancer.
Bariatric surgery, or weight loss surgery, offers hope to those who suffer from chronic obesity. While some people are able to lose massive amounts of weight through diet and exercise, many others find it difficult to achieve lasting results through these more traditional means of weight loss. Bariatric surgery allows overweight people to regain control over their health and, by extension, their lives. Post-bariatric patients who remain committed to their new, healthy lifestyles find themselves at significantly lower risk of disease. Perhaps just as importantly, many people who experience massive weight loss feel better about themselves, their appearance, and their futures.
There are three basic types of bariatric surgery, each with its own unique sets of benefits and risks:
Restrictive weight loss surgery involves closing off parts of the stomach, either through the implantation of an adjustable banding device or the use of surgical staples, in order to decrease its capacity for food storage. Common restrictive procedures include LAP-BAND® System surgery and vertical banded gastroplasty.
Conversely, malabsorptive weight loss surgery requires that permanent structural changes be made to the anatomy of the digestive system. Malabsorptive procedures such as biliopancreatic diversion involve the rerouting of the small intestine to limit the amount of calories that can be absorbed by the body.
The third surgicalapproach represents a combination of the restrictive and malabsorptive techniques, as in Roux-en-Y gastric bypass surgery, in which a smaller stomach pouch is created and the small intestine is rerouted.
Historically, the United States National Institutes of Health has recommended bariatric surgery for chronically obese people with a body mass index (BMI) of higher than 40 or with a BMI of higher than 35 but with significant comorbidities such as diabetes or sleep apnea. In February 2011, however, the United States Food and Drug Administration approved the LAP-BAND® System for use in patients with a BMI of 30 or higher as long as they also had at least one coexisting obesity-related condition.
Among morbidly obese individuals, massive weight loss has been clinically proven to lower the risk of obesity-related diseases and early death. In 2011, the American Heart Association released a statement that, for certain candidates, the benefits of bariatric surgery significantly outweigh the risks. In addition to health-related benefits, many patients experience dramatically improved self-esteem and newfound abilities to participate in activities that often prove difficult for overweight people, including hiking, swimming, and other types of sports.
Any surgical procedure carries with it some degree of risk, and the possibility of serious complications is higher in cases of major surgeries such as gastric bypass. These risks include infection, pulmonary embolism, bleeding, and ulcers. It should also be noted that, while gastric banding procedures are reversible, gastric bypass surgery involves the permanent alteration of the patient’s anatomy. Furthermore, in some rare cases, people who undergo bariatric surgery simply fail to lose substantial weight, even when they commit to making the appropriate lifestyle changes.
The surest way to reduce the risks associated with weight loss surgery is to seek out an experienced bariatric surgeon with an established record of success.
It is important that people who undergo bariatric surgery understand that massive weight loss requires a lifelong commitment to healthy eating, portion control, and regular exercise. Bariatric surgery is an important means of promoting weight loss, but cannot, in and of itself, produce the life-saving results that many morbidly obese people are seeking. Life after bariatric surgery can be difficult, emotionally and physically; most people need substantial support from family, friends, and professionals to succeed. Many of those who do succeed, however, succeed gloriously, reducing their BMI to healthier levels and often ridding themselves of comorbidities such as Type 2 diabetes.
The cost of bariatric surgery depends on many factors, such as the procedure chosen, geographical location, the experience of the surgeon, and the amount of coverage, if any, provided by the patient’s insurance plan. The exact cost of a patient’s surgery is determined during the pre-surgery consultation.
Choosing a Bariatric Surgeon
When choosing to undergo any major surgery, you should be as certain as possible that the surgeon you are entrusting with your health is deserving of the responsibility. Be sure to ask about the surgeon’s background, record of success, and approach to aftercare. Before you proceed with surgery, it is essential that you feel comfortable with your choice of surgeon.