Weight loss surgery, also called bariatric surgery, is a big step. Before you decide to move forward with surgery, you will want to make sure you are very informed. Your bariatric surgical team can answer your specific questions, and you can see the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions below.
Morbid Obesity and Treatment Options
Morbid obesity is a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 40 or more, which is roughly equal to 100 pounds or more over ideal body weight. The disease of morbid obesity interferes with basic physical functions such as breathing or walking. Long-term effects of the disease include shorter life expectancy, serious health consequences in the form of weight-related health problems (co-morbid conditions) such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease, and a lower quality of life with fewer economic and social opportunities.
The causes of morbid obesity are multiple and complex. Despite conventional wisdom, it is not simply a result of overeating. Research has shown that, in many cases, significant, underlying causes of morbid obesity are genetic, environmental, and social. Studies have demonstrated that, once the problem is established, efforts such as dieting and exercise programs have a limited ability to provide effective long-term relief.
There are two definitions for a co-morbid condition: the presence of one or more disorder or disease in addition to a primary disorder or disease; or, the presence of a disorder or disease that is caused by or is otherwise related to another condition in the same patient. The primary disease of morbid obesity can lead to several co-morbid conditions.
TREATMENT: Diet and Exercise* will result in 2% to 5% in weight loss
TREATMENT: Medication** will result in 0% in weight loss
TREATMENT: Bariatric Surgery*** will result in 50% to 70% in weight loss
* Success measured as a loss of 10% of initial body weight.
** Weight loss is not maintained once treatment ends.
*** Success measured as a loss of 50% of excess body weight (equivalent to loss of approximately 20% to 25% of initial body weight).
Bariatric surgery is a procedure designed to make the stomach smaller so the patient feels satisfied with less food. It is intended for people who are 100 pounds or more overweight (with a Body Mass Index of 40 or greater) and who have not had success with other weight loss therapies such as diet, exercise, medications, etc. A person with a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 35 or greater and one or more co-morbid condition also may qualify for bariatric surgery.
BMI is a measure used to index a person’s height and weight. BMI allows healthcare professionals and patients to better understand health issues associated with a specific weight classifications (such as obesity and morbid obesity).
Answer our screening questions to see if bariatric surgery may be right for you.
Patients who have:
- Men with a BMI of 40 to 55
- Women with a BMI of 40 to 60, or
- Men and women with a BMI between 35 and 39.9 with a weight related condition
Talk with your surgeon about the different surgical treatments, as well as the benefits and risks.
- Bariatric surgery is not cosmetic surgery
- Bariatric surgery does not involve the removal of adipose tissue (fat) by suction or surgical removal
- The patient must commit to long-term lifestyle changes, including diet and exercise, which are key to the success of bariatric surgery
- Problems after surgery are rare, but corrective procedures may be required
As with any surgery, there are immediate and long-term complications and risks. Possible risks can include, but are not limited to:
- Complications due to anesthesia and medications
- Deep vein thrombosis
- Dehiscence (separation of areas that are stitched or stapled together)
- Leaks from staple lines
- Marginal ulcers
- Pulmonary problems
- Spleen injury
- Stenosis (narrowing of a passage, such as a valve)
Possible side effects include:
- Dumping syndrome
- Nutritional deficiencies
- Need to avoid pregnancy temporarily
- Nausea, vomiting, bloating, diarrhea, excessive sweating, increased gas, and dizziness
Open surgery involves the surgeon creating a long incision to open the abdomen and operating with “traditional” medical instruments. Laparoscopic, or minimally invasive, surgery is an approach that allows the surgeon to perform the same procedure using several small incisions, a fiber-optic camera, video monitor, and long-handled instruments. Learn more about the differences, as well as why your surgeon may recommend a minimally invasive technique but switch to an open one.
The decision to perform minimally invasive or open surgery is made by your surgeon before the operation. For some patients, the laparoscopic, or minimally invasive, technique cannot be used due to dense scar tissue from prior abdominal surgery. Also, the inability to see organs and/or bleeding during the operation can cause your surgeon to switch from minimally invasive to open surgery during your operation.
Roux-en-Y (pronounced ROO-en-why) gastric bypass surgery is the most popular bariatric surgery in the United States. In this procedure, the surgeon creates a small stomach pouch and then constructs a “bypass” of some of the small intestine. The smaller stomach pouch restricts the amount of food the patient can comfortably eat, and the bypass decreases the number of nutrients and calories absorbed.
Gastric banding is a purely restrictive surgical procedure in which a silicone band is placed around the uppermost part of the stomach. The band is adjustable and can be periodically tightened or loosened depending on the patient’s needs.
The Sleeve Gastrectomy reduces your stomach size. This restricts the amount of food that you can eat comfortably and results in weight loss.
Qualifying for Bariatric Surgery
Because every insurance policy is unique, it is important that you thoroughly understand your Certificate of Coverage to know exactly what is and isn’t covered through your plan. We can help you with this.
The qualification process includes a series of tests with your bariatric surgeon. You also will meet with a nutritionist, psychologist, and other support staff members in sessions leading up to surgery. Each health care professional will help you prepare for the changes and challenges that lie ahead.
Certain basic tests typically are performed:
- Blood tests
- Upper endoscopy (EGD)
- Psychological evaluation
- Dietitian consultation
Other tests that may be requested include:
- Chest x-ray
- Pulmonary function testing
- Sleep study
- Cardiology evaluation
- Other tests based on your current health status
What Impact do my Medical Conditions Have on the Decision for Bariatric Surgery, and how can my Medical Problems Affect Risk?
Medical problems, such as serious heart or lung problems, can increase the risk of any surgery. On the other hand, many serious medical conditions may improve or resolve after successful bariatric surgery.
Bariatric surgery is like any other major abdominal surgery. You can best prepare by knowing the benefits and risks of surgery, and by closely following your doctor’s instructions.
- Understand the surgical process and what to expect afterward
- Keep in mind that you’ll never be able to eat the way you did before, and that you’ll have to watch what and how you eat for the rest of your life
- Talk to people who have had bariatric surgery
- Write down your reasons for having bariatric surgery and outline your plans to maintain your weight loss after surgery
- Practice the post-op diet, including the transition from an all-liquid diet, to puréed food, to a normal diet of smaller portions with four ounces of protein
- Start a journal. Record how you feel now, the challenges you face, and the things you hope to be able to do after bariatric surgery
- Ask your family and friends for their support. Talk to them about why you want to have bariatric surgery. It helps to have people behind you, waiting to help
There are two definitions for a co-morbid condition: the presence of one or more disorder or disease in addition to a primary disorder or disease; or, the presence of a disorder or disease that is caused by or otherwise related to another condition in the same patient.
Type 2 diabetes is a long-term metabolic disorder where the body produces insulin, but resists it. Insulin is necessary for the body to utilize sugar.
- 83.8% of patients who had gastric bypass surgery experienced complete resolution of type 2 diabetes
- 47.8% of patients who had gastric banding surgery experienced complete resolution of type 2 diabetes
- Patients who had bariatric surgery had lower insulin resistance, and their risk for metabolic syndrome, high blood pressure, and high amount of fats in the blood also decreased
Excess body weight is associated with an increased risk of heart disease, elevated cholesterol, and high blood pressure. These conditions can lead to heart attacks, strokes, and heart and kidney damage. Bariatric surgery reduces excess body weight over time, which decreases strain on the heart.
- 75.4% of patients who had gastric bypass surgery experienced complete resolution of high blood pressure
- 38.4% of patients who had gastric banding surgery experienced complete resolution of high blood pressure
- Changes in diet and exercise after surgery can lead to significant improvement of cardiovascular problems
High cholesterol is a disorder of lipids — the fat-like substances in the blood. A common form of dyslipidemia is hyperlipidemia (or high cholesterol), the condition that exists when someone has too much of certain lipids in the blood. As these lipids build up inside the artery walls, harmful scar tissue and other debris begin thickening and hardening the walls. Long-term, this can lead to heart disease and high blood pressure.
- 95% of patients who had gastric bypass surgery experienced improved cholesterol health
- 78.3% of patients who had gastric banding surgery experienced improved cholesterol health
Obstructive sleep apnea is when breathing suddenly stops because soft tissue in the back of the throat collapses and closes during sleep. Morbid obesity can cause sleep apnea and other respiratory problems that may result in chronic fatigue.
- 86.6% of patients who had gastric bypass surgery experienced complete resolution of sleep apnea
- 94.6% of patients who had gastric banding surgery experienced complete resolution of sleep apnea
What is Acid Reflux or Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) and how is it Affected by Bariatric Surgery?
Acid reflux, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease, is injury to the esophagus caused by chronic exposure to stomach acid. It is a serious disease that can cause esophagitis, Barrett’s esophagus, and esophageal cancer (adenocarcinoma).
- 98% of patients who had gastric bypass surgery experienced complete resolution of acid reflux/GERD
- 32.3% of patients who had gastric banding surgery experienced complete resolution of acid reflux/GERD
Morbid obesity may put you at a higher risk for several types of cancer, such as colon, breast, and kidney cancer. In 2003, an article in the New England Journal of Medicine estimated that obesity could account for:
- 14% of all deaths from cancer in men
- 20% of all deaths from cancer in women
Depression is an illness that involves the body, mood, and thoughts. It affects the way a person eats, sleeps, thinks, and feels. There are many reasons people with morbid obesity experience depression. Emotional health goes hand in hand with physical health. Lifestyle improvements and renewed health can help resolve depression. Weight loss, combined with counseling, can be very helpful in improving mental health.
- 47% of patients who had gastric bypass surgery experienced improvement of depression symptoms
Osteoarthritis is one of the most common forms of arthritis. Known as the wear-and-tear kind of arthritis, osteoarthritis is a chronic condition in which there is a breakdown of joint cartilage. For anyone who is living with morbid obesity, the excess body weight placed on joints, particularly knees and hips, results in rapid wear and tear, and pain caused by inflammation. Bariatric surgery can reduce much of this weight over a long period of time and can be very effective in treating osteoarthritis.
- 41% of patients who had gastric bypass surgery experienced complete resolution of osteoarthritis
Among women, morbid obesity is a risk factor for stress urinary incontinence, or uncontrollable urine loss. A large, heavy abdomen and relaxation of the pelvic muscles due to morbid obesity may cause the valve on the urinary bladder to weaken, leading to leakage of urine with coughing, sneezing, or laughing. Bariatric surgery has been found to improve stress urinary incontinence. Less weight is placed on the bladder, and other physical changes take place to improve this condition.
- 44% of patients who had gastric bypass surgery experienced complete resolution of stress urinary incontinence
Reproductive health can be a concern for women struggling with morbid obesity. Issues such as infertility (the inability or reduced ability to produce children) and menstrual irregularities may occur due to morbid obesity. Fertility issues include possible miscarriage, reduced success with fertility treatments, and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). Additionally, women living with morbid obesity are more likely to have children with certain birth defects. A recent study of women following gastric bypass surgery showed improvement of multiple clinical problems related to infertility and PCOS.
- 100% of patients who had gastric bypass surgery experienced complete resolution of menstrual dysfunction due to PCOS
- 79% of patients who had gastric bypass surgery experienced complete resolution of excess hair due to PCOS
- Patients who had gastric bypass surgery experienced restored ovulation and fertility
Coping With Concerns
The fear of surgery is not irrational or abnormal; in fact, it’s very common. Bariatric surgery creates a smaller stomach pouch and, depending on the procedure, may shorten the digestive tract — all while the patient is under general anesthesia. If you have concerns, consider the following:
- Share your concerns and fears with your surgeon
- Attend a support group and speak with patients who likely share the same fears
- Understand the complication rates and mortality rates of surgery
- Listen to bariatric surgery patients share their own fears and concerns
And remember, you’ll have a team of health care professionals dedicated to your best possible care.
For people who have spent years living with morbid obesity, bariatric surgery can transform their lives. However, it’s important to be prepared for all aspects of the treatment. Surgery changes your body by creating a smaller stomach pouch. Learn more about the different types of bariatric procedures.
There are several ways to pay for surgery, including:
- Health insurance coverage for bariatric surgery
- Alternative financing options such as medical loans or home equity loans
It varies by procedure, and person to person. The LAP-BAND can be placed and the patient may be able to go home later that same day, or they may opt to spend one night in the hospital. The Sleeve Gastrectomy and Gastric Bypass normally require an in-hospital stay of one or two nights.
Our patients benefit from ongoing support from the physician, nurse, and dietitian as well as support groups with other bariatric surgery patients.
Most doctors recommend that women wait at least one year after the surgery before a pregnancy. Approximately one year postoperatively, your body should be fairly stable (from a weight and nutrition standpoint), and you should be able to carry a normally nourished fetus. Consult your surgeon as you plan for pregnancy.
Many people think bariatric surgery will be followed by a long and painful recovery period. However, most patients report experiencing only discomfort and soreness rather than pain. Recovery does, however, vary from patient to patient.
As with any major surgery, there will be a recovery period. Remember that this is a necessary step, and the better care you take during recovery, the more quickly you return to normal activity.
Recovery time varies from patient to patient. Depending on what type of work you do, you should be able to return to work in one to two weeks.
For people suffering from morbid obesity, bariatric surgery can be a powerful tool. For the surgery to be effective long term, it must be used properly alongside other tools. Through lifestyle changes, such as regular exercise and a healthy food plan, many patients are able to make a long-term change for better health.
Life After Surgery
Bariatric surgery is not a quick fix. It’s an ongoing journey toward transforming your health through lifestyle changes. After surgery, you will feel satisfied and fuller with less food. Positive changes in your body, your weight, and your health will occur, if you maintain the diet and exercise routines recommended by your bariatric program.
After the initial recovery period, most patients are instructed to eat 1/4 cup, or 2 ounces, of food per meal. As time goes on, you can eat more (as instructed by your medical team). Most people can eat approximately 1 cup of food per meal (with 4 ounces of protein) a year or more post-surgery.
Your ability to resume pre-surgery levels of activity depends on your physical condition, the nature of the activity, and the type of bariatric surgery you had. Many patients return to normal levels of activity within three to six weeks of surgery.
Exercise is an important part of success after surgery. You may be encouraged to begin exercising, limited only by discomfort, about two weeks after surgery. The type of exercise depends on your overall condition, but the long-term goal is to get 30 minutes of exercise three or more days each week.
Most pills or capsules are small enough to pass through the new stomach pouch. At first, your doctor may suggest that medications be taken in crushed or liquid form. As a general rule, ask your surgeon before taking any medication.
Eating simple sugars (such as sugar, honey, and corn syrup) or high-fat foods can cause dumping syndrome in patients who have had gastric bypass surgery. This occurs when these products, which have a small particle size, are “dumped” from the stomach into the intestine at a rapid rate. Water is pulled into the intestine from the bloodstream to dilute the sugar load. This flush of water causes symptoms that can include diarrhea, rapid heart rate, hot flashes or sweating and clammy skin, and dizziness.
It depends on the type of procedure you have. Band patients need to work with their surgeons to have their band adjusted several times during the first 12 to 18 months after surgery. Bypass patients typically see their surgeons for three to five follow-up appointments the first year, then once per year thereafter. Over time, gastric bypass patients will need regular checks for anemia (low red blood cell count) and vitamin B12, folate, and iron levels.
Support groups give patients an excellent opportunity to talk about personal issues. Most patients learn, for example, that bariatric surgery will not resolve personal relationship issues. Most bariatric surgeons who frequently perform bariatric surgery will tell you that ongoing support after surgery helps to achieve the greatest level of success for their patients. Patients help keep each other motivated, celebrate small victories together, and provide perspective on the everyday successes and challenges that patients generally experience.
Studies show that bariatric surgery can effectively improve and resolve many weight-related health conditions. A review of more than 22,000 bariatric surgery patients showed:
- Improvement in or complete resolution of conditions including type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and sleep apnea
- 61.2% reduction of excess weight