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Written by Dr. Mike Blaney
on April 26, 2018

One of the biggest myths surrounding weight loss surgery has to do with the safety of these procedures. I can’t begin to tell you the number of patients who say, ”I thought these operations were risky” or “I have too many medical problems for that to be safe”.  They are not completely wrong—this is surgery and surgery does have its risks. However, what most patients find surprising is that all of the modern weight loss procedures performed today are as safe, if not more safe, than most commonly performed procedures. Similarly, in most cases, the risk of this disease (a.k.a obesity) is GREATER than the risk of surgery.

What is your fat doing to your health?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that more than one-third of adults in America are obese. There is no doubt that obesity is a major cause of a number of serious and potentially life-threatening diseases. Obesity can lead to type 2 diabetesheart disease, hypertension, and stroke. It has also been linked to some cancers, including breast and colon cancer.

...or your quality of life?

Furthermore, the condition can severely damage a person's quality of life, leaving them immobile and often times triggering depression.

Based on these factors, it is not hard to understand why excessively overweight individuals look to various weight loss interventions in order to combat their obesity. You only need to turn on the TV to see that there are a multitude of weight loss options, many of which are pure quackery. Therefore, one option that many obese individuals begin to look towards for treatment is weight loss surgery (bariatric surgery).

effects of obesity

What is the risk of NOT treating your obesity?

According to the American Society of Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery (ASMBS), the number of surgical weight loss procedures carried out in the US has increased from 13,000 in 1998 to more than 200,000 in 2008.

When considering weight loss surgery a patient often considers the potential risk of this operation, however what a  patient really should consider is the risk of not treating this disease. Most patients would treat their heart disease or diabetes, but far to many people ignore treating their obesity.

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Obesity is a disease that has significant complications. Far too long, doctors and the public have looked at “obesity” as a social problem and not a medical one. There are many reasons for this that we can discuss in future articles, however, for now it's important to understand that this problem needs treatment. For more information about this check out this website—Time to Act on Obesity.  

Almost every medical problem that an obese patient suffers from (diabetes, hypertension, joint disease, etc.) is linked to excess weight, whether directly or indirectly.

If a 40 year old patient with a body mass index (BMI) over 40 treats their obesity and ultimately obtains a BMI less then 30, they will extend their life expectancy anywhere from 10 to 20 YEARS!  Not only will most people live longer by treating obesity, they will also have an improved quality of life. 

When we talk about surgery safety, what do we really mean?

In the field of surgery, we generally take this to mean a lower rate of complications during the actual surgery. A complication is a known incident that happens with a certain degree of frequency. Surgeons are constantly trying to reduce the rate of these instances so that patients have better outcomes.

As the field of weight loss surgery has grown, so has the safety of these procedures.  

The first reason that weight loss surgery has become safer is that these surgical procedures are all done laparoscopically (with a TV camera scope).  In years past, (2003 and before) these procedures were done by making a large mid-line incision in the abdominal wall. This often times would lead to a higher risk of complications because patients would experience more pain, would not recover as quickly, and would not deep breath as much due to the increased pain associated with an open procedure.

With laparoscopic procedures, the patient is up and out of bed within hours requiring very little, if any, pain medication.  Most patients leave the hospital within 24 to 48 hours of the procedure and are back to work in 1 to 2 weeks.  Ultimately, laparoscopic surgery has a much faster recovery rate and therefore results in less complications, i.e. SAFER!

Center of ExcellenceThe second big reason the safety of these operations has improved is the programmatic nature in which these procedures are being preformed. What we mean by this is that bariatric surgeons have special training in these procedures, and hospitals go through a rigorous evaluation to learn how a weight loss surgery program operates. This is known as a “Center of Excellence” criteria (COE). The American Society of Bariatric and Metabolic Surgery publishes guidelines on how these surgeries should be performed and what standards surgeons, nurses, and hospitals should follow.

All of this has leads to very consistent outcomes. As a patient potentially thinking about having weight loss surgery, you should always have your operation done by a COE certified surgeon and hospital. 

In upcoming articles we will break down the known risks/complications and discuss them further so that our reader has a realistic perspective. In the meantime, for more information I would encourage prospective patients to attend an information seminar at a Center of Excellence Bariatric Facility.

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