Bariatric surgery is a type of surgery to help you lose weight. It is a choice for some people who are obese and not able to lose weight with other methods. It may also be a choice if you are overweight and have a health problem such as diabetes. Diabetes and some other health problems can get better with weight loss.

Benefits of bariatric surgery

Bariatric surgery may help you lose a large amount of extra weight and keep it off. This can help prevent or treat health problems such as:

  • Diabetes
  • Arthritis
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Sleep apnea
  • Liver disease
  • Infertility
  • Certain lung diseases
  • Certain cancers
  • Psychological problems

In some cases, a health problem linked to weight may go away after weight loss. People who get surgery tend to lose more weight than people who get medical treatment for their weight loss. This means that surgery is more likely to help with problems linked to obesity, such as diabetes or sleep apnea. But the results are not the same for everyone. Some people do not lose as much weight as they want after surgery.

Risks of bariatric surgery

All surgery has risks. Your risks may be different according to your general health, your age, the type of surgery you choose, and the amount of weight you need to lose. Talk with your doctor about the risks that most apply to you. Risks of bariatric surgery include:

  • Bleeding
  • Infection
  • Blockage of your bowels (intestinal obstruction)
  • Blood clots
  • Heart attack
  • Need for follow-up surgery
  • Gallstones (a later problem)
  • Nutritional deficiencies (a later problem)
  • Psychological difficulties after the procedure
  • Regain of some weight after surgery

Is bariatric surgery right for you?

Doctors most often advise bariatric surgery to people with a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or more. BMI is a measurement that compares a person’s height and weight. A BMI of 25 to 29.9 means overweight. A BMI higher than 30 means obese. Your doctor may also suggest bariatric surgery if your BMI is between 35 and 40 and you have a health problem that may get better with weight loss.

Bariatric surgery is not the only treatment for obesity. Your doctor may want you to try other treatments first. These may include working with a dietician or using a weight-loss medicine.

Your health care team will only do the surgery if they know it will give you health benefits. For the surgery to be a success, you will need to make lifelong changes to your diet and lifestyle. Your health care team will want to know that you are ready for the life changes that go with surgery.

The approval process

You will need to go through an in-depth process to be approved for bariatric surgery. This is done to find out if you are ready for the surgery, and if it will help you. And you will need to find out if your health insurance plan will cover the costs of the surgery.

You’ll need to meet with health care providers such as:

  • A surgeon, who must confirm that you are a good candidate for surgery
  • A mental health care provider, who can look at your emotional readiness for the surgery
  • A dietician, who will look to see if you are ready to make the needed changes
  • A primary care doctor, who can look at your general health and readiness for surgery
  • A heart doctor, who can make sure your heart is healthy for surgery
  • A lung doctor, who can make sure your lungs are healthy for surgery

All of these health care providers must agree that the surgery is safe for you.

Before your approval, you will also need to:

  • Lose some weight before your surgery, to prevent problems
  • Stop smoking
  • Work with health care providers to treat medical or emotional problems

A big decision

Bariatric surgery is a big step. It will change your eating habits for the rest of your life. Make sure you fully understand the risks and benefits. Ask for support from your partner, family, and friends.

Tests before bariatric surgery

You will need some exams and tests. These are to make sure you are healthy enough for the surgery and recovery. You may need tests such as:

  • Blood tests to check for anemia, infection, hormone levels, and kidney function
  • Screening for nutrient deficiencies
  • Chest X-ray, to help make sure your heart and lungs are healthy
  • Echocardiogram, if more information about your heart is needed
  • Electrocardiogram, to look at your heart rhythm
  • Pulmonary function tests, to see of your lungs are healthy

Having realistic weight loss goals

It’s important to have a realistic weight-loss goal for your surgery. Most people do not lose all of their extra weight after surgery. You may lose one-half to two-thirds of your excess body weight. This depends on the type of surgery you have. Your doctor can give you a more exact idea of what you can expect.

Losing this amount of weight may help any health conditions you have, even if you still have extra weight. You may be able to reduce or stop some of the medicines that you take. You may have more energy and a better self-image. Having a realistic weight-loss goal can help keep you motivated. It can help keep you on track with your good eating habits. Your health care providers will give you a realistic idea of how much you can expect to lose after your surgery.

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