Weight loss surgery is often in the headlines, with stories about how people lost vast amounts of weight with a gastric bypass, or gastric band. These medical procedures make weight loss surgery look like the panacea for all obesity and on the face of it, the success rate of weight loss or bariatric surgery does seem impressive.
What is Weight Loss Surgery?
There are several types of basic weight loss surgery. The main ones available in the UK are:
- Gastric Band
- RNY Gastric bypass
- Duodenal Switch
- Sleeve Gastrectomy
- Gastric Balloon
If you want to have weight loss surgery, you will have to have a BMI of over 40 (or in some cases over 35 if you have another obesity related condition like diabetes, joint problems or high blood pressure.) You’ll also have to prove to a doctor or surgeon that you’ve tried absolutely everything else, and usually had to attend a weight management clinic to lose weight before the operation takes place.
Pros of Weight Loss Surgery
Dramatic Weight Loss
The most obvious and well-reported side effect of the surgery is dramatic weight loss, which is what you’re looking for really. The fact that you physically can’t eat so much means that the weight loss can be quite impressive, and very fast. Of course, the speed and amount of weight that a patient loses will depend on other factors such as their metabolism, height and the amount of weight they needed to lose.
Weight loss surgery also has positive effects on other areas of a patient’s health, in many cases. Some studies have shown that up to three quarters of people who have bariatric surgery go on to discard their blood pressure medication at some point after their surgery, usually a few weeks or months after the procedure.
Cholesterol levels can also be affected by weight loss surgery, and patients can find they no longer need medication due to their diet having changed so drastically.
Other obesity-related problems such as sleep apnoea, can often be reduced following successful weight loss surgery, along with the risks of serious conditions such as heart disease and diabetes.
The Down Sides to Weight Loss Surgery
Whilst it seems like the dream answer to anyone who’s tried dieting and exercising for years, there are downsides to having surgery to do the job for you:
It’s Not Always Effective
There are plenty of great stories about people having lost half their body weight after weight loss surgery, but some procedures, such as gastric banding, don’t work first time around and require a further operation to be effective. It’s said that one in five gastric band procedures has to be re-done.
As with any surgery, weight loss surgery carries a risk of serious side effects. One of the nastiest side effects of bariatric surgery is one called dumping syndrome. Dumping syndrome is where foods that are particularly high in fat and/or sugar, move through the digestive tract too fast, which can cause nausea and vomiting, sweating, diarrhoea, dizziness and s fainting. It’s extremely important to remember that weight loss surgery isn’t a cure-all that allows you to eat anything you want to, and that if you want to avoid these symptoms, you will have to change your diet to one that contains less fat and sugar.
Side effects of the gastric balloon can also be nasty – the balloon can burst and another operation becomes necessary. Some types of weight loss surgery, such as the gastric bypass and duodenal switch procedure also affect the digestion to a point where the patient will need to take vitamin and mineral supplements on a daily basis.
Other Health Risks
The surgery itself also carries health risks. According to the Mayo Clinic in the US, the death rate for bariatric surgery is one in 300 – compared to one in every 600 with cardiac surgery (which you might assume would be more risky). There are also risks of deep vein thrombosis, pulmonary embolism and gall stones as well as vitamin deficiency if the prescribed supplements are not taken religiously. The RNY gastric bypass procedure can also carry a risk of internal leakage. If you are considering weight loss surgery, you need to research each procedure thoroughly, and speak to medical professionals about your options – it’s a decision that can change your life for the better but it’s not one to be taken lightly.