We’re a few months into the new year and while resolutions may be in the rearview mirror for some, lifestyle changes are still top of mind for many people. Eating more vegetables and being active each day is a healthy habit for everyone to adopt, but others may need additional support on their weight loss journey.
There’s no denying it — losing weight is hard. And oftentimes the heavier you get, the more difficult it becomes to shed the excess pounds. Severe obesity often makes it challenging to start and maintain a healthier lifestyle, but the repercussions for not losing weight can be dire.
Bariatric surgery is a tool in conjunction with diet and exercise to help with weight management. These interventions can help jumpstart a weight loss journey that is reliable and sustainable for those struggling with obesity.
Types of Bariatric Surgery
As a chronic condition, obesity is oftentimes caused by an issue with the digestive tract itself. The body may be unable to digest food effectively, which can result in food passing through too quickly and additional calories being absorbed.
Bariatric surgery can help with this issue by altering the stomach and intestines to restrict how much food is ingested. The most common procedures are gastric bypass and sleeve gastrectomy.
The available surgeries work by causing restriction, malabsorption or both. The restrictive approach makes the stomach physically smaller by creating a smaller pouch, thus limiting the amount of food it can hold. Malabsorptive procedures reroute parts of the intestine in order to limit the amount of calories that are absorbed
Associated Risks & Benefits
The benefits of bariatric surgery can be far-reaching. Studies show that patients live longer and have significantly decreased risk for coronary artery disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and stroke. Weight loss in general is also known to help with sleep apnea and joint problems, as well as simply improving your overall quality of life.
With any medical intervention there are a number of factors you should consider, and the same is true for bariatric surgery. It is impossible to predict exactly how your body will react to the procedure, but there are some known and established risks.
While bariatric surgeries are generally safe, all surgeries will have risks for bleeding, infections, and anesthesia. Pre-existing medical conditions can also be problematic and will need to be discussed with your doctor.
Aside from internal effects, there are some additional concerns that accompany extreme weight loss. You may see changes in your appearance, such as sagging skin and hair loss. Changes in your social life can also lead to mental health issues such as depression.
How to Start Your Journey
Qualifications for bariatric surgery can vary depending on the procedure, as well as insurance requirements. In most instances, you will need to have a body mass index of over 35 as well as a medical condition directly related to your weight. Many providers will also want you to try non-surgical weight loss methods first.
Discussing bariatric surgery with your primary care physician can shed some additional light on your particular situation and what is available to you. By getting a referral, you will have a better understanding of everything from what your insurance covers to risks that are specific to you.
If all prerequisites are met, the timeline from your first consultation to your first operation can be as little as two months. It does, however, vary from patient to patient. Other factors that influence timing are alcohol and nicotine. You must abstain from drinking and quit smoking at least three months before the surgery.
It’s also worth noting that your journey doesn’t end with the bariatric procedure itself. For the first year after, you will have monthly follow-up visits, and then annual appointments in the years following. The surgery is not a cure for weight loss and its effectiveness will depend on the lifestyle choices you make for the rest of your life.