Obesity is a growing problem for many citizens throughout the United States. One solution to obesity is to undergo weight loss surgery. This popular technique can assist in dramatic weight loss. The surgery changes the anatomy of the digestive system, which results in reducing the amount of calories it can absorb and the amount of food it can accommodate.
Obesity surgery can also provide both health and social benefits. Health wise, it can help improve several obesity-related conditions; socially, it can improve your self-esteem. Before undergoing obesity surgery, it is important to discuss the qualifications, risks, and complications with your physician.
Obesity Surgery Qualifications
In order to qualify for weight loss surgery, you must be severely obese and meet certain qualifications.
- If you have a BMI greater than 35 and have at least one obesity related condition, including: high blood pressure, arthritis, high cholesterol, sleep apnea, diabetes, psudotumor cerebri, obesity hypoventilation syndrome, or a family history of early coronary heart disease. Sleep apnea is a disorder where you have at least one pause in breathing while sleeping. Psudotumor cerebri occurs when pressures inside your skull increase causing symptoms similar to a brain tumor. Obesity hypoventilation syndrome occurs when poor breathing leads to lower oxygen levels and higher carbon dioxide levels in the blood of someone who is obese.
- If you have a BMI between 35 and 40, you must meet an additional set of qualifications. Your obesity-induced physical problems and body size must be interfering with your lifestyle. Your lifestyle can include your social life, your employment, a family function, and the ability to walk around freely.
- If you have a BMI greater than 40, you do not have to meet any other medical condition in order to qualify for a weight loss surgery.
- In addition to factors relating to your BMI and related health issues, you must be between the age of 20- and 60-years-old; have tried (but failed) at attempts to lose weight through behavioral, dietary, and medical therapy; and understand the procedure and risks of the surgery.
Obesity Surgery Risks and Complications
Similar to any other type of surgery, obesity surgery does have risks. Like gastric bypass surgery, there are both short-term complications and long-term risks.
Short-term risks for weight loss surgeries typically occur within the first 3 to 14 days after the surgery is completed. Common short-term risks include bleeding, infections, pulmonary embolus (blood clots in the lungs), nausea, and even death. Although not as common, bile reflux gastritis can also be a risk to some patients. This occurs when bile flows back into the stomach. Caffeine withdrawal headaches are common in patients who drink coffee, tea, and sodas. This experience can occur after the surgery, but can be avoided by stopping all caffeine intake days before the surgery.
Long-term risks focus primarily on vitamin and mineral deficiencies. In many patients, decreases in iron, vitamin B12, calcium, and foliate levels can occur within two years of the operation. You can prevent these deficiencies and the risk of osteoporosis by taking multi-vitamins and supplements after the surgery. These deficiencies also can create subnormal levels of vitamin B12 and fail to absorb food that contains this vitamin; therefore, it is important to keep up with doctor visits to make sure you do not have the risk of a deficiency.
Pre Surgery Preparation
You can reduce risks before and after the surgery by taking action and preparing for your upcoming weight loss surgery. If you currently smoke, stop. This will reduce risks of complications due to smoking. By exercising before and after, you will strengthen your heart and lungs, helping your body to better tolerate the surgery, reduce the risk of blood clots, and improve your lung function.
You should also consider attending support group meetings. This will give you an opportunity to learn from others. See what mistakes others made which caused complications so you can take charge of your body and take the necessary steps to prevent these complications from occurring.
If you are considering bariatric surgery, you need to discuss with your doctor if you are a candidate for the surgery. Be sure to research the surgery so that you are aware of all risks and complications that may occur as a result. Prepare yourself for the physical and psychological changes the surgery will cause. With proper preparation and dedication to change, the success of obesity surgery is up to you.
[page updated December 2008]