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Weight Loss Surgery

Written by: Dr Kristie McNealy

Losing weight is difficult, but being extremely overweight is a dangerous health problem.  While a healthy diet and exercise are the preferred ways to lose weight, sometimes people struggle to lose weight for years with little success.  If you are one of those people, weight loss surgery may be an option.

What is Weight Loss Surgery?

Weight loss surgery is also known as bariatric surgery.  It is a surgical procedure designed to cause a person to lose weight by making them feel full sooner (restriction), or by decreasing the absorption of food in the gastrointestinal tract (malabsorption).  Weight loss surgery involves making changes to the stomach and/or intestine.  Some of these changes are permanent, while others can be reversed.

Are You a Candidate for Weight Loss Surgery?

Weight loss surgery is not appropriate for minor weight loss.  Bariatric surgery procedures are reserved for people who are extremely over weight.  Body mass index, or BMI is a standard way to define degrees of obesity. The BMI is calculated based on a person’s height and weight. If you have a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or more, which is about 100 pounds overweight for men and about 80 pounds for women, you are a candidate for weight loss surgery.  People who have a BMI between 35 and 40 can also be considered for weight loss surgery if they have certain diseases associated with obesity, including diabetes, severe sleep apnea or certain types of heart disease.

Weight loss surgery is a serious undertaking, so in most cases, you'll need to be able to provide proof that other weight loss techniques have failed.  You may also need to undergo various types of counseling to assure that you are motivated to change, and that you are committed to the lifestyle changes associated with weight loss surgery.

Types of Weight Loss Surgery

Over time, techniques used in weight loss surgery have changed.  There are several different types of weight loss surgery being performed at this time.  Three common types include:

  • Gastric Bypass – Also known as Roux-en-Y gastric bypass. This surgery involves stapling the stomach to reduce the size of the stomach pouch, and connecting it to a Y-shaped part of the small intestine. This allows food to bypass part of the intestine called the duodenum. Gastric bypass results in weight loss through both restriction and malabsorption. Complete guide to gastric bypass surgery

  • Gastric Banding – A silicone band with an inflatable inner collar is placed around the upper stomach in gastric banding. This band restricts food intake by changing how large the stomach opening and pouch are. A port placed in the abdominal wall allows the band to be adjusted. Complete guide to gastric band surgery

  • Gastric Balloon – In a gastric balloon procedure, a deflated silicone balloon is inserted through the mouth and into the stomach. The balloon is then filled with liquid or air, making the size of the stomach smaller. The balloon can be left in place for up to six months, and after that, it is completely reversible. Complete guide to gastric balloon surgery

What are the Risks of Weight Loss Surgery?

Like any surgery, bleeding, infection and anesthesia problems are possible complications of weight loss surgery.  Because people receiving weight loss surgery are extremely overweight, the surgery involved is riskier than many other elective procedures.  Risks that are specific to weight loss surgery include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Bleeding ulcers
  • Dumping syndrome
  • Hernias
  • Vitamin and mineral deficiencies
  • Gallstones
  • Narrowings or blockages in the GI tract
  • Leaking along suture lines in the GI tract
  • Pulmonary embolism (blood clot in the lungs).

Some of the complications from weight loss surgery, like hernias, intestinal blockages and leaking require additional surgeries to fix them.



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