How effective is bariatric surgery?

Effectivness of bariatric surgery

The actual weight a patient will lose after the procedure depends on several factors.

  • Age
  • Weight before surgery
  • Overall condition of health
  • Specific surgical procedure
  • Ability to exercise
  • Commitment to maintaining dietary guidelines and other follow-up care
  • Motivation and cooperation of family, friends and associates

Controlling obesity-related health conditions

Surgery has been found to be effective in improving and controlling many obesity-related health conditions.

  • Back pain
  • Sleep apnea 
  • High blood pressure 
  • Diabetes 
  • Depression

Certain conditions can be approved or even resolved.

For example, many patients with Type 2 diabetes, while showing less overall excess weight-loss, have demonstrated excellent resolution of their diabetic condition, to the point of having little or no need for continuing medication.

Success from bariatric surgery

In general, the success of weight-loss surgery is sometimes defined as achieving a 50 percent loss or more excess body weight and maintaining that level for at least five years. Clinical data will vary for each of the different procedures mentioned on this site.

Clinical studies show that, following surgery, most patients lose weight rapidly and continue to do so until 18 to 24 months after the procedure. Patients may lose 30 to 50 percent of their excess weight in the first six months, and 77 percent of excess weight as early as 12 months after surgery.

Another study showed that patients could maintain a 50 to 60 percent loss of excess weight 10 to 14 years after surgery. Patients with higher initial BMI tend to lose more total weight. Patients with lower initial BMI will lose a greater percentage of their excess weight and will more likely come closer to their ideal body weight (IBW). Patients with Type 2 diabetes tend to show less overall excess weight-loss than patients without Type 2 diabetes.

Medical problems that can be eliminated from bariatric surgery

Bariatric surgery often helps eliminate many of the medical problems that accompany obesity.

High blood pressure

Nearly 70 to 80 percent of patients who suffer from high blood pressure and use medications to control it are able to stop taking all medications and have a normal blood pressure, usually within six months after surgery.

Diabetes

About 90 percent of patients with Type 2 diabetes achieve excellent results within a few weeks after surgery. These include reduction and/or complete freedom from all medications, (including insulin injections, normalization of blood sugar levels, and Hemoglobin A1C values.) Although the existing complications of diabetes (including neuropathy, vasculopathy, and retinopathy) may not be reversed, it’s likely that their progression will slow down when blood sugar levels are maintained at normal values. More and more studies suggest that bariatric surgery may be the best available medical treatment for diabetes that currently exists for the seriously obese patient.

Heart disease

Major improvements in problems such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes suggest that the risk of dying from heart disease may well be reduced in the severely obese patients. In one recent study, the risk of death from cardiovascular disease was profoundly reduced in diabetic patients who are particularly susceptible to this problem.

Respiratory problems

Improvement in exercise tolerance and breathing ability usually occurs within the first few months after surgery. Often, patients who have barely been able to walk find that they are able to participate in family activities and sports.

Sleep apnea and obesity hypoventilation syndrome

Since these conditions are strongly related to obesity, dramatic resolution occurs as patients lose weight. Many report complete resolution of their symptoms within a year of surgery with cessation of snoring and daytime sleepiness. Many patients who require an accessory breathing apparatus to treat sleep apnea no longer need it after surgically induced weight-loss.

Heartburn (gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD)

Gastric bypass surgery can often be the preferred operation for this condition since it results in a dramatic reduction in the size of the stomach and therefore in the amount of acid secreted—the main culprit that causes heartburn. Relief of all symptoms of reflux usually occurs within a few days to weeks after surgery for nearly all patients. There is some emerging evidence that surgery may also reduce long-term complications of reflux disease, including esophageal cancer and stricture formation.

Low back pain, degenerative disk and joint disease

Patients usually experience considerable relief of pain and disability from degenerative arthritis and disk disease and from pain in the weight-bearing joints (hips and knees). This tends to occur early, with the first 25 to 30 pounds lost, usually within a month after surgery.

High cholesterol

More than 80 percent of patients will develop normal cholesterol levels within two to three months after the operation.

Stress urinary incontinence

This socially embarrassing condition responds dramatically to weight-loss and usually becomes completely controlled. A person who is still troubled by incontinence can choose to have specific corrective surgery later, when the chance of a successful outcome with a reduced body weight.

Shortness of breath and asthma

Most asthmatics find that they have fewer and less severe attacks, or sometimes none at all. When asthma is associated with gastroesophageal reflux disease, it is particularly benefited by bariatric surgery.

Marked improvement in other medical conditions including leg swelling, leg ulcers, pseudotumor cerebri, menstrual irregularities, and chronic headaches also occurs after weight-loss surgery.

Managing obesity with bariatric surgery

It’s important to understand that surgery is only a tool to help you achieve permanent weight-loss and the resolution of accompanying illnesses. Surgery plays only a small role in the overall management of obesity. You must make a commitment to a life-long change in your eating and exercise habits after this surgery.

Last reviewed: 
June 2018

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