Bariatric surgery is the most effective treatment for obesity. Studies show that more than 90 percent of those having bariatric surgery are able to keep off at least 50 percent of their excess weight. That’s in stark contrast to diet and exercise alone, in which a very large majority of people regain their lost weight, and then some, within 2 years.
But, the benefits of bariatric surgery go far beyond the weight loss itself. Many health issues are improved or resolved, some almost immediately after surgery. Included are the debilitating diseases of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, sleep apnea, asthma, arthritis, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), fatty liver disease, venous stasis, urinary incontinence, and more.
Type 2 Diabetes
Eighty percent of patients will see a remission of type 2 diabetes after surgery. Some patients are even able to leave the hospital no longer needing their diabetes medications.
Type 2 diabetes is generally considered to be a progressive and incurable disease, but that isn’t the case after bariatric surgery. In many cases, blood sugar levels improve immediately after surgery, lowering or eliminating the need for medication, even before significant weight is lost.
The day of my surgery was the last day I took an injection of insulin. I am no longer on the pump or on medication for my cholesterol or blood pressure. I have started living my life the way I want.
Heart (Cardiovascular) Health
People who lose significant weight after bariatric surgery greatly reduce their risk for heart disease and stroke. Blood pressure, cholesterol, triglycerides, and other measures of heart health often return to normal or near normal levels.
Being overweight is a major risk factor for heart disease, especially if excess weight is carried in the abdomen. An inactive lifestyle, which often accompanies obesity, also raises the risk. The good news is that after weight loss surgery, it is easier to be active, and more activity leads to a healthier heart.
Many are surprised and thrilled to find relief from joint pain shortly after surgery as both inflammation and excess pressure are reduced. Did you know that every extra pound of weight exerts 4 pounds of pressure on the knees? That means 100 pounds of extra weight puts 400 pounds of pressure on the knees! No wonder joints begin to ache and fail.
What is it that you dream of doing? Walking into a store pain free? Running a 5K? No longer needing a walker or wheelchair? Keeping up with your children or grandchildren? The increase in mobility after bariatric surgery provides freedom to do those things that are important to you.
Good news—bariatric surgery resolves sleep apnea for 80 percent of people. Just think about having a restful night’s sleep and waking up refreshed and ready for the day ahead—something many only dream of.
Sleep apnea often contributes to poor sleep —short periods without breathing during the night. This can be treated with CPAP machines, but only about 50% of people are consistent in using them. Untreated sleep apnea can lead to high blood pressure, stroke, arrhythmias, enlargement of the heart, congestive heart failure, diabetes, heart attack, lack of concentration and poor energy. After bariatric surgery, you’ll be able to donate your CPAP machine and look forward to quality, restful sleep.
There is a much lower risk (one study found a 50% lower risk) of going to the ER or being hospitalized for asthma flare-ups after bariatric surgery if you suffer from severe asthma.
Heartburn (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease- GERD)
Gastric bypass surgery greatly improves or resolves heartburn symptoms in most people. Heartburn occurs when stomach acids back up into the esophagus. It can be irritating and sometimes even painful.
Just about everyone has heartburn occasionally after overindulging or eating spicy foods. If heartburn becomes regular, two or more times a week, it may be GERD. Although GERD can be uncomfortable, the real concern is that the stomach acids damage the esophagus over time and increase the risk of esophageal cancer.
Excess weight increases the risk of GERD–the higher the BMI, the higher the risk. For those with severe GERD, gastric sleeve surgery is typically not recommended because it can make GERD symptoms worse.
Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD)
Bariatric surgery is effective in improving or resolving nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).
The liver helps the body digest food, store energy, and remove poisons. When fat builds up in the liver, it leads to nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). As the disease progresses, inflammation, damage to liver cells, and scarring of the liver occur. Cirrhosis or liver cancer can follow.
NAFLD is quite common in obese individuals, but typically has no symptoms. There are no easy-to-diagnose lab tests available for NAFLD, so most have no idea they have it.
Mood and Depression
As the social stigma of obesity, health issues, fatigue, and poor body image resolve after surgery, many people also feel the weight of depression lift. Weight loss surgery often opens up a new world of activities, social connections, and opportunities that promote a more positive outlook.
Once recovered from surgery, you can look forward to a boost in energy. You’ll spend less energy on the things you have to do, leaving more energy for the things you want to do.
Think about picking up one hundred pounds of dog food or carrying a 100 pound teen on your back. Imagine walking up a flight of stairs with that weight on your shoulders. Can you feel your knees ache, the shortness of your breath, and the strain on your entire body? Next, imagine setting down those one hundred pounds. How light and free do you feel? It’s fun to visualize a new life—one that is no longer limited by excess weight and fatigue.
I am so thankful for the new life that I have. I love my new active lifestyle. I walk, swim, ride horses; anything I want to do. I am no longer limited by my weight. I have the energy to try things I thought I could never do. I have opened three new businesses. My whole life has changed.
For many women, bariatric surgery improves fertility and reduces weight-related pregnancy complications. High estrogen levels and poly cystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) are common with obesity and lower the odds of becoming pregnant.
Leg Sores and Blood Clots (Venous Stasis)
Weight loss surgery is effective in treating venous stasis. One study of people with venous stasis who underwent gastric bypass surgery found that 95% had complete resolution of venous stasis after surgery.
Obesity is a top risk factor for venous stasis. Venous stasis occurs when there is a problem with the flow of blood from leg veins back to the heart. Healthy veins have valves that move blood towards the heart. With venous stasis, the valves don’t work correctly and fluid pools in the legs resulting in painful leg rashes, sores or skin ulcers, and blood clots. In serious cases, venous stasis can lead to partial or full amputations of the leg.
I’m much more active now that I don’t hurt from walking. And the heat doesn’t get to me. I can easily jog, or full-out run if I have to, around my neighborhood, when before I couldn’t walk. I golf at least once a week and can walk 18 holes with no problem. I can get on the floor and play with my dogs. I enjoy clothes shopping; in fact, I do it every weekend, because there are so many more choices.
I no longer have sleep apnea and sleep very well at night. Travel is so much easier when you fit into the plane seat.
Quality of Life
It’s not only health that improves with weight loss surgery, but overall quality of life. Here are just a few ways our patients have experienced a higher quality and enjoyment of life:
- Able to reach down and tie your shoe effortlessly.
- Mood and confidence improve. They report they’re able to live life to the fullest.
- Feel stronger and have more energy.
- Fewer aches and pains. It is much easier to move their body.
- Clothes fit better and they’re able to shop in “regular” stores.
- More motivated to go places and do things.
- More likely to try new things.
- Fewer medications.
- Skin looks younger.
- They’re able to tackle that treadmill, 5K run, spinning class or whatever their heart desires—weight no longer hinders them.
- Vacations are more fun—starting with not having to ask for a seatbelt extender on the plane.
You’ll not only enjoy life more, you’ll have more life to enjoy. With the reduced risk of major diseases, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, sleep apnea, and some forms of cancer, you’ll have a longer life expectancy.
Weight loss surgery can help you reach a healthy weight, but that is only the beginning. You’ll not only have the physical ability to participate in desired activities, but also the drive and energy to do so. With bariatric surgery, you will reduce your risk of major disease and can expect an improvement in the quality and length of your life.