What you should know about bariatric surgery
You’d probably eat less if you felt full after eating a small amount of food. That’s exactly what bariatric surgery does and why it helps people lose weight.
Bariatric surgery enhances weight loss in obese people who have not achieved long-term success with other weight loss attempts. Bariatric surgery reduces the stomach’s storage capacity, which limits food intake and helps you feel full much sooner than normal.
But there’s more than one type of bariatric surgery. Options include gastric bypass, sleeve gastrectomy, gastric banding and gastric plication. Your physician can help determine if you’re a candidate and, if so, which option will work best for you.
“If you have a body mass index (BMI) of 35 or more, this means you likely need to lose over 65 pounds,” says bariatric surgery nurse Karen Schulz, MSN, CNS, CBN. Without making changes, you could develop serious health issues because of the excess weight. Almost all people with a BMI of 40 or more are candidates for the surgery.
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Dietary adjustments after bariatric surgery
With their smaller stomachs, people who have had the surgery need to eat very slowly and take tiny bites. “One of the hardest adjustments for patients is that they cannot drink liquids while eating. Patients should drink their fluids at least 30 minutes before or 30 minutes after eating, but it doesn’t take long for most people to adjust,” Ms. Schulz says.
Those who have had the surgery also take vitamins and supplements recommended by a nutritionist who counsels patients after the procedure.
Weight loss only one health benefit of many
Bariatric surgery offers people significant and sustained weight loss.
“Most people who need to lose 65 or more pounds have tried multiple times to lose the weight on their own. While they may have some success at first, less than five percent of people keep the weight off for five years or more,” says bariatric surgeon and Director of Cleveland Clinic’s Bariatric and Metabolic Institute Philip Schauer, MD. In fact, he says they usually gain the weight back in less than a year.
Losing the weight and gaining it back does nothing to mitigate the potential health problems associated with obesity. You must keep the weight off for a minimum of five years to consider the loss a success and one that can result in a happier, healthier you.
Benefits of sustained weight loss through bariatric surgery include:
- Long-term remission for type 2 diabetes. “A recent Cleveland Clinic study suggests that bariatric surgery causes long-term remission of difficult-to-control type 2 diabetes. The results of this study show the procedure is highly effective for obese patients with type 2 diabetes, allowing almost all patients to remain free of insulin and adjunct medications for at least three years post surgery,” says Dr. Schauer.
- Improved cardiovascular health. Weight loss surgery decreases a person’s risk of coronary heart disease, stroke and peripheral heart disease. “Blood pressure and cholesterol levels can return to normal, or near normal after surgery, reducing these risks and improving overall well-being,” Ms. Schulz says.
- Relief of depression. Many obese people feel depressed because of poor body image and social stigma. Even younger people who carry significant excess weight find it difficult to participate in activities they might otherwise enjoy, leading to social isolation and depression. Losing this excess weight can improve emotional health in these patients.
- Eliminate obstructive sleep apnea. Achieving and sustaining a normal weight range often allows people with sleep apnea to stop using a CPAP machine at bedtime.
- Joint pain relief. Carrying around excessive weight puts a lot of stress on your weight-bearing joints, often causing chronic pain and joint damage. “The significant and sustained weight loss that occurs after bariatric surgery relieves the stress on joints and often allows people to stop using pain medications and enjoy much more mobility,” Dr. Schauer says.
- Improve fertility. Weight loss surgery can also improve fertility during childbearing years.
- Alleviate other medical conditions. Weight loss surgery can alleviate metabolic syndrome, pregnancy complications, gallbladder disease and more.
With obesity and its associated health complications rising at an alarming rate in America, bariatric surgery certainly represents a powerful tool for providing sustained relief for overweight people.
Dr. Schauer warns that it’s important to choose a facility with extensive experience in performing these procedures. “Bariatric surgery is very safe and, when performed by a knowledgeable and experienced team, comes with no more risk than a knee or gall bladder surgery,” he says.
The best facilities have a team of experts to help guide people through pre-surgery counseling and give ongoing support afterward.
“Patients have the best chance of success when supported by an experienced medical team that includes surgeons, bariatric medical physicians, nurses, psychologists, endocrinologists, and dietitians,” says Ms. Schulz.