Is bariatric surgery right for you?

This content is provided by MedStar Washington Hospital Center.

Nearly one in three adults are overweight, and more than two in five adults have obesity. About one in 11 adults have severe obesity – all of this according to 2017–2018 data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which was released in February 2020.

The survey found the U.S. obesity prevalence was 42.4% in 2017 – 2018 and that in the roughly 18 years preceding the data’s collection, the U.S. obesity prevalence increased from 30.5% to 42.4%. During the same time, the prevalence of severe obesity increased from 4.7% to 9.2%.

With obesity rates on the rise, there’s no better time to bring awareness to the health risks of obesity and the proven benefits of bariatric surgery.

A person whose weight is higher than what is considered to be a normal weight for a given height is described as being overweight or having obesity, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

“Obesity can have a direct association with serious health conditions such as blood clots, bone degeneration, cancer, heart disease, stroke and Type 2 diabetes. Bariatric surgery is an option many turn to so they can take control of their health and see long-term benefits,” said Dr. Ivanesa Pardo, a board-certified general and bariatric surgeon at MedStar Washington Hospital Center.

Bariatric surgery, or weight loss surgery, is a procedure to change the size and position of a patient’s stomach and small intestines. Benefits of this minimally invasive surgery can extend well beyond weight loss for obese patients—including near-immediate resolution of several chronic conditions, a reduced need for medications, improved quality of life and increased longevity, Dr. Pardo said.

“From better mental health to a longer lifespan, bariatric surgery offers several benefits beyond weight loss,” Dr. Pardo said. “But fewer than 20% of patients who qualify for bariatric surgery go through with it—often due to misconceptions about the preparation, procedure, and ongoing maintenance.”

A 2003 study published on JAMA Network examined the years of life lost to obesity, and the researchers found that obesity reduces life expectancy in all adults, and especially in young adults. Other studies have shown that the risk of death from any health cause is 40% lower after bariatric surgery, Dr. Pardo said.

“The sooner we treat patients with obesity, the longer they’ll live,” Dr. Pardo said. “If you are 18 or older and have obesity, get an evaluation for bariatric surgery before other medical conditions develop.”

More than 90% of patients sustain long-term weight loss after their procedure, Dr. Pardo said. Successful bariatric surgery results in a loss of more than 50% of your excess weight, she added.

“After surgery, you’ll be exercising more and eating healthier—behaviors we’ll help you develop and improve before surgery. And you’ll have regular follow-up appointments with us so we can help you stay on track,” Dr. Pardo said.

Choosing bariatric surgery could mean fewer health conditions that patients have to live with as well. Type 2 diabetes goes away completely in 85% of patients who undergo bariatric surgery, Dr. Pardo said. Other conditions like sleep apnea, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and fatty liver disease greatly improve or resolve after bariatric surgery, she added.

Additionally, a patient’s mental health can see a drastic improvement after bariatric surgery, Dr. Pardo said. Many people who are obese have depression or anxiety, and research shows that these conditions typically improve after bariatric surgery – especially in those patients with low self-esteem or body image concerns, she added.

Living with obesity can also lead to fatigue, keeping patients from experiencing activities they once enjoyed. After bariatric surgery, many patients can move and breathe better allowing them to participate more in their lives and thus improve their mental health, too, Dr. Pardo said.

“Every patient interested in bariatric surgery at MedStar Health undergoes a mental health evaluation before surgery. While beneficial, having bariatric surgery is a major life change that can trigger more stress and anxiety,” Dr. Pardo said. “By identifying patients who might struggle with the change, we can closely monitor their symptoms and provide support as their mental health improves.”

Many patients report an improved quality of life after bariatric surgery, Dr. Pardo said.

“One of the best parts of my job as a bariatric surgeon is seeing how happy patients are after surgery,” she said. “It feels good to take fewer medications, to play sports you’ve been longing to try, to bike, run, or play with kids and grandkids.”

Bariatric surgery is safe and effective. For those struggling with obesity, the procedure can be life-changing—and lifesaving, Dr. Pardo added.

Read more in a blog post with Dr. Pardo on the MedStar Washington Hospital Center website.

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