What Is Bariatric Surgery?

Although weight loss is the most obvious result from bariatric surgery, the procedure can also help combat other potentially serious health issues.

A doctor working with an overweight patient on his health

The optimal choice of bariatric procedure for an individual is selected by consultation between the patient and surgeon.

© sefa ozel | iStock / Getty Images Plus

Bariatric surgery is an operation that shortens the digestive tract to prevent your body from absorbing all the calories you consume. Weight loss is the most obvious result—but bariatric surgery can do more than help people shed pounds.In fact, in many cases, bariatric surgery can reverse obesity-related medical conditions, such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol levels.

New research shows that bariatric surgery also can help combat other potentially serious health issues. For instance, one study review examined the effect of bariatric surgery on patients with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and found that the procedure reduces deaths from all causes, as well as the diagnosis of cirrhosis. A 2017 study published in the journal Annals of Surgery found that bariatric surgery lowered overall cancer risk by one-third among severely obese people, with the greatest effect seen for obesity-associated cancers. Specifically, the risk of postmenopausal breast cancer dropped by 42 percent, endometrial cancer fell by 50 percent, colorectal cancer was reduced by 41 percent, and pancreatic cancer was lowered by 54 percent.

Bariatric surgery also may help you live longer. A 2018 study found that obese middle-aged people who have the surgery live almost twice as long over a 10-year period compared with people who receive traditional weight management treatment, such as counseling on dietary choices and behavior modification strategies.

Types of Bariatric Surgery

Several different bariatric procedures are available, and all can be done laparoscopically, through several tiny incisions. Some also can be performed endoscopically, through the mouth and throat, which means no incisions at all. Compared with open surgery, minimally invasive procedures reduce pain and recovery time afterward, allowing people to return to their normal activities more quickly.

The optimal choice of bariatric procedure for an individual is selected by consultation between the patient and surgeon. Popular choices include gastric bypass surgery, gastric banding, sleeve gastrectomy, and biliopancreatic diversion with duodenal switch.

Who Qualifies for Bariatric Surgery?

Because bariatric procedures have a significant impact on the body, candidates must meet certain requirements to be selected for surgery. In general, candidates must:

  • Be at least 100 pounds over their ideal weight
  • Have a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or greater Have a BMI of 35 or greater, plus an obesity-related disorder
  • Have undergone an intensive diet and exercise program that failed to produce significant weight loss
  • Undergo a mental health evaluation
  • Commit to following recommended diet and lifestyle changes that will be required after surgery.

After Bariatric Surgery

The complication rate from bariatric surgery is quite low. Patients are typically hospitalized for two days, and during this time they receive instructions on diet, medications, and resuming their normal activities.

For two years after bariatric surgery, people are expected to participate in frequent follow-up visits that may include blood tests to check for nutritional deficiencies. They need to be more mindful about maintaining their bone health to lower the possibility of fractures. They also should consider participating in support groups, which have been shown to help when it comes to managing expected lifestyle changes.

The good news is that the vast majority of people who undergo bariatric surgery feel better, look better, and live healthier lives with fewer chronic diseases and medications.

To learn more about bariatric surgery and other issues affecting your gut, buy Digestive Diseases and Disorders from University Health News.

As a service to our readers, University Health News offers a vast archive of free digital content. Please note the date published or last update on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.

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Lynne Christensen

Lynne Christensen is executive editor of the Cleveland Clinic Arthritis Advisor newsletter. After completing her undergraduate degree from New York University, Christensen earned a master’s degree in biological studies from … Read More

View all posts by Lynne Christensen

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