Bariatric surgery is a generic term used to describe a variety of different surgical procedures designed to help morbidly obese people lose weight. Statistics from the CDC estimates that 25.6% of Americans are morbidly obese, with a higher percent located in the South and Midwest. For some, bariatric surgery offers the option of rapid weight loss, although diet and exercise still play a vital role in the process. Those contemplating bariatric surgery should consider the advantages and disadvantages and weigh their options carefully.

Advantages of Bariatric Surgery

The health benefits of bariatric surgery and the subsequent weight loss can be dramatic. Conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma, heart disease, acid reflux, sleep apnea and gall bladder disease are just some of the health problems that can improve significantly or disappear all together. Other conditions that can be improved or eliminated include stress urinary incontinence, low back pain, and degenerative joint and disk disease. Life expectancy and the quality of life is dramatically improved with bariatric surgery and weight loss with the resolution of so many health problems experienced by the morbidly obese.

The advantage to bariatric surgery is the weight loss is typically much faster than diet and exercise alone. Bariatric surgery controls the food intake by reducing the amount of food able to be consumed and can also limit caloric absorption, depending on the surgical method chosen.

Disadvantages of Bariatric Surgery

Many bariatric surgery procedures totally change the way the digestive system processes food. This can result in chronic diarrhea or other changed bowel habits. Since the small intestine is rearranged, bariatric surgery can lead to malabsorption and malnutrition due to the inability of the body to process and absorb vital nutrients. Dietary supplements must be taken daily to offset this. Eating habits are significantly curtailed, as eating too much or eating the wrong foods can induce vomiting. These are permanent changes in many bariatric procedures and cannot be reversed, therefore the decision of the type of bariatric surgery is very important.

Another disadvantage is a phenomenon known as “dumping”. This is when sugar, fat and alcohol are absorbed into the bloodstream too quickly, leading to symptoms such as nausea, rapid pulse and vomiting. Some people feel very sleepy after a meal. There are also emotional consequences can often lead to divorce – the divorce rate after post-bariatric surgery is higher than the national average.

New bariatric surgery procedures include an adjustable band called the “lap band”. This procedure is reversible, but the same problems described above apply as long as the lap band is in place.

Many people who are morbidly obese have failed to lose weight by any other means and have experienced rapidly deteriorating health. Bariatric surgery is often the only option left for them. Although it requires some major lifestyle changes, and there are risks of complications, losing the weight by bariatric surgery has the added advantage of saving lives.