Six Things You Need to Know if You’re Considering Bariatric Surgery

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Obese. There’s a lot of emotion behind that word.

I can bet that if you’ve heard that word used about you it didn’t feel great.

It may have been while you were sitting on the crinkly paper at your doctor’s office. Or maybe you used a fitness app to calculate your own BMI. And the result was… obese.

We live in a society where people openly judge those that struggle with their weight. Some people wrongly assume that overweight people are lazy or selfish. Even with all the movement towards body positivity, the judgment and misconstrued beliefs are always there.

But they don’t know that…

… You just gave birth to your third baby, and each pregnancy has left you with weight you can’t shake

… Or that you finally feel relief from the depression that’s been plaguing you, thanks to an  antidepressant, but it’s caused you to steadily gain weight since starting it

… Or that between working full time, raising a family, and caring for your elderly mother, you rarely get a minute of alone time to exercise

The truth is, obesity is a complex disease with many different causes and risk factors. And just like it would be wrong to judge someone for having high blood pressure, it’s wrong and harmful to judge someone with an obesity diagnosis. Most diseases we can’t see, but since obesity affects appearance, it’s easy to see… and judge. But no one should be defined by a medical diagnosis.

Let’s take a closer look at this disease and ways to overcome it – including bariatric surgery.

The Basics About Obesity: Risk Factors, Comorbidities, and Treatment 

No matter who you are, maintaining a healthy weight by eating healthy foods and exercising can be a challenge. But some genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors can put you at a higher risk for obesity, including:

  • Low socioeconomic status
  • Lack of access to healthy foods
  • Genetic predisposition
  • Taking certain medications such as steroids, antidepressants, and birth control
  • Health issues such as hypothyroidism
  • Sedentary occupation or lifestyle
  • Mental health issues such as depression
  • Race or ethnic group 
  • Food addiction⁴

There are usually multiple factors that lead to obesity. And in our busy, rat-race lifestyle these days, eating healthy and exercising take a back burner.

In fact, it’s often the busy, hard-working people that develop obesity due to one or more of the risk factors above. Not those that are “lazy or selfish.”

Long-Term Effects of Obesity

People with obesity are at a higher risk for many serious, and sometimes life-threatening, diseases, including:

  • Hypertension 
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • High cholesterol
  • Stroke
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Sleep apnea
  • Several types of cancer
  • Mental illness such as depression and anxiety¹

These potential outcomes are serious.

But the good news is, no matter how you got to this point, there are real, effective ways to treat obesity and reverse these long-term effects.

Common Weight Loss Solutions

We all know that diet and exercise are key to weight loss. Depending on your lifestyle, some approaches to a healthy diet and exercise will be more helpful than others. These days, some people have success with:

  • Intermittent fasting
  • Low carb diets like Keto
  • Avoiding fatty foods
  • Food journals
  • Joining accountability groups like Weight Watchers
  • Enlisting the help of a personal trainer or coach
  • Joining a fitness community like Crossfit

No matter if you want to try the latest diet, or you simply count calories and work out daily, exercise and diet are the foundations of weight loss. 

But it’s common to need additional support. If food addiction is playing a role in your weight, it’s also important to get help from an addiction counselor. In some circumstances, your physician might decide to prescribe a weight loss drug to jump-start your success. And it’s possible that bariatric surgery might help you start losing weight.

Bariatric Surgery

You may feel like you’ve tried it all. You’ve tried each new fad diet and put in hours sweating at the gym. You may have some success for a short amount of time… only to gain back those stubborn pounds.

It may feel impossible. Like this weight will be following you for the rest of your life.

You want to make a positive change for yourself. You want to live a healthier life and feel better daily. You want to have a long life with your loved ones.

The frustration in past attempts and the longing to make a change may have led you to research bariatric surgery.

Bariatric surgery is a procedure that changes the anatomy of your stomach to help you lose weight. There are three different types of common bariatric surgeries:

  1. Roux-en-Y bypass – This surgery divides the stomach into two pieces. The smaller piece is a pouch that acts as the new stomach, and the larger section of the stomach is bypassed and no longer part of the digestive system.²
  2. Sleeve Gastrectomy – This surgery removes 80% of the stomach and leaves a small, curved, slender pouch of the stomach remaining.²
  3. Adjustable Gastric band – a silicone device is placed around the stomach to create a small pouch of the stomach on top.²

With all of these types of surgery, the idea is to create a smaller portion of the stomach to act as the whole stomach so that you feel full quicker, and consume less.²

6 Important Things to Know About Bariatric Surgery

Weight-loss surgery might seem like the dream solution you’ve been hoping for. And bariatric surgeries do help many people to jumpstart and maintain a healthier weight, especially if other solutions have failed. It’s important to know that any surgery is serious. And along with that comes some serious risk. Plus, a lot of work goes into preparation, and recovery from these surgeries. Let’s take a look at some important things to be aware of if considering bariatric surgery.

  1. Weight loss surgery affects how your body processes food, including how it absorbs essential nutrients.

Some of the nutrients the body struggles to absorb post-op are iron, vitamin b12, folate, calcium, and vitamin D.³ You may need to take supplements, sometimes for life, to ensure you’re getting enough of these nutrients that your body needs.³

2 – The postoperative period will be rough.

Recovering from any surgery can be a doozy. The nature of surgery and anesthesia can cause pain, nausea, and discomfort no matter what surgery you’re having.

Bariatric surgery comes with a unique set of postoperative struggles. Since these surgeries involve manipulating the stomach, patients often wake up with intense nausea.⁸ Your anesthesiologist and nurse will give you medications to prevent and treat nausea. But because of the nature of the surgery, sometimes the only thing that helps the nausea is time.

And besides the pain from the incision that accompanies almost every surgery, many people who receive bariatric surgery also get intense gas pain.⁸ These surgeries are usually done laparoscopically… meaning the surgeon makes very small incisions to insert the surgical instruments. Then, the surgeon fills your abdomen with carbon dioxide gas so that there’s room to work.⁸ When the procedure is completed, as much of the gas is removed from your belly as possible before closing things up.⁸ Unfortunately it’s almost impossible to remove all of the carbon dioxide. 

So it’s likely that you’ll wake up feeling some intense pressure in your abdomen, ribcage, or even your shoulders. Most patients feel like the gas pain is worse than the incisional pain. And unfortunately, pain medicine won’t help this discomfort. 

The thing that helps this type of pain the most is walking. Movement will help the gas dissipate and relieve the pressure.⁸

Though nausea and the gas pain can be intense, they typically only last for a maximum of 48 hours postoperatively. 

Take heart! These side effects are temporary and well worth it to create a healthier life.

3 – Your meals will be smaller and more frequent.

Your eating schedule will be different after weight loss surgery. Because these surgeries essentially create a smaller stomach, you can only eat small amounts of food at a time.³ Because of this, you’ll have to eat smaller meals every few hours throughout the day. It’s important to eat nutrient-dense foods during these small meals so your body gets the nutrition it needs.³

4 – Not everyone qualifies for bariatric surgery.

Since a surgery that alters your anatomy has inherent risks, not everyone who wants one can get one. Qualifications for weight loss surgery can vary based on where you live. In general, those that qualify for bariatric surgery include:

  • People with a BMI greater than or equal to 40
  • People who are more than 100 pounds overweight
  • People with a BMI greater than or equal to 35 with serious comorbidity (such as sleep apnea, hypertension, or type 2 diabetes).⁵

If you fit one of these criteria, bariatric surgery is likely an option for you. If not, talk to your doctor about bariatric surgery, but you’ll likely be encouraged to try other routes.

5 – Some patients do have successful, long-lasting results.

Most surgeons consider bariatric surgery to be a success if the patient is able to lose 50% of their excess body weight and maintain that loss for five years.⁶ Clinical studies show that most patients lose about 77% of excess body weight in the first year after surgery.⁶ Not only that, but most patients that achieve loss like this are able to maintain at or below a 50% loss for ten years or longer.⁶

Basically, if you’re able to lose at least 50% of your excess body weight and maintain that loss, your surgery is a success. And about 85% of patients who get bariatric surgery are successful at achieving this weight loss.

6 – Bariatric surgery can reverse and eliminate other medical problems.

Like we discussed earlier, obesity is linked to other serious medical problems. One of the best outcomes of weight loss achieved through bariatric surgery is that it can get rid of your other medical problems caused by your weight. This includes:

  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Sleep apnea
  • Heartburn
  • Degenerative disk disease
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Asthma and shortness of breath⁶

Of course, it’s great to lose weight to make you feel better about your appearance, but the real benefit of the results achieved through bariatric surgery is a healthier body, years added to your life and feeling your best.

Find a Treatment That’s Right for You

If you’re struggling with obesity, you’re not alone. In the United States alone, over 42% of people are obese. That’s over 70 million adults.

Surgery isn’t always the right solution. But it is important to find a weight loss strategy that works for you. 

If you’ve struggled through diets and rigorous exercise plans that have given you no results, bariatric surgery might be the right option for you. Regardless, you should talk to your doctor, a nutritionist, and a counselor to come up with a plan that will give you lasting results.

There is only one you. And you have so much to contribute to the world around you. Finding a healthy way to shed those extra pounds can give you more energy and longer life to share your gifts with the world.

 References:

  1. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/obesity/symptoms-causes/syc-20375742
  2. https://asmbs.org/patients/bariatric-surgery-procedures
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5347111/
  4. https://www.cdc.gov/obesity/adult/causes.html
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK546667/
  6. https://uihc.org/health-topics/how-effective-bariatric-surgery
  7. https://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/adult.html
  8. https://tsaco.bmj.com/content/3/1/e000219
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3470459/

Bekah McLaughlin

Bekah McLaughlin is a medical writer and registered nurse. She loves to teach her patients, both in-person and through her writing. Check out her work at bekahmclaughlinagency.com

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