Weight Loss

Weight Loss Surgery: Everything You Need to Know

Weight Loss Surgery

Weight loss surgery is a reasonable step for many people who have tried traditional diet and exercise programs without success. Gastric bypass or another form of weight loss surgery may help you reach your goal weight and improve your overall health. 

What Is Bariatric Surgery?

Bariatric surgery is another name for weight loss surgery (WLS) or stomach surgery for weight loss. There are many different types of weight loss surgery.

The surgical procedures are usually performed by a board-certified bariatric surgeon who also counsels the patient before and after surgery.

Bariatric medicine, including weight loss surgery, is a growing field. The methods used to perform the surgeries are always improving and becoming safer. But all surgeries involve some risk and significant financial investment. When you choose weight loss surgery you should be ready to work hard and make a long-term commitment to your health so that your outcome is successful.

For many patients, the long process is worth it. Weight loss surgery provides important benefits for many patients who aren't able to reach their goal weight with traditional methods. You may be able to resolve or improve health concerns like type 2 diabetes, hypertension, sleep apnea, urinary incontinence, and body aches and pains.

Who Can Get Bariatric Surgery?

Bariatric surgery is not appropriate for everyone. If you only have a small amount of weight to lose, or you haven't tried to lose weight with traditional diet and exercise programs, it's probably not right for you. In general, people who undergo a bariatric surgery are adults who have a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or more.

 These are people who are often 100 pounds or more overweight. They are also people who have already tried to lose weight with other methods and are, importantly, ready to commit to a healthy diet and exercise program post-surgery.

If you have a BMI of 35 or more, you might also be a good candidate for a bariatric procedure if you have a medical condition that is related to your weight. Such conditions can include sleep apnea, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease

Lastly, there are some procedures that are approved for people with a slightly lower body mass index. The laparoscopic adjustable gastric band, or lap band, is FDA-approved for people with a BMI of 40 or over, or for people with a BMI of 30 or over if they have a serious weight-related medical condition. The gastric balloon is approved for patients with a BMI of 30 to 40 and who have a weight-related condition. The gastric balloon is not a surgical procedure, but rather another option for people who might be thinking about getting WLS.

Different Types of Weight Loss Surgery

If you know that you are a good candidate for surgery, there are several different procedures available that can be considered:

  • Gastric bypass or Roux-en-Y: A small stomach is formed from your existing stomach and attached directly to the small intestine.
  • Lap band: An inflatable band is placed around the upper part of the stomach, which makes the stomach smaller.
  • Sleeve gastrectomy: A vertical, tube-shaped stomach is created so there is less room for food.
  • Biliopancreatic diversion with duodenal switch (BPD/DS): A small, tubular stomach is created and attached to a section of the small intestine.
  • Vagal blocking device (vBloc): An electronic device is implanted under the skin to block hunger signals between your brain and body.
  • Stomach pump: A pump is placed inside the stomach that allows you to pump food out of your body before calories are absorbed.

The best weight loss surgery for you depends on a number of factors including your lifestyle and health history.

You should learn more about each procedure then talk to your doctor about the weight loss surgery options that might work best for you.

Weight Loss Surgery Costs

The total cost of your weight loss surgery experience will include more than just the procedure. In addition to surgery, you should consider the cost of aftercare, special food or shakes that your bariatric surgeon might recommend, and follow-up surgery for complications and/or cosmetic procedures to manage loose skin

If you have your surgery performed at a bariatric center, it's likely that the cost of your weight loss surgery experience will be combined into one lump sum. That means you won't pay separately for pre-surgery appointments, aftercare, or lifestyle counseling. Often, these services are provided within the center, but it's important to ask so that you can calculate the total cost of your bariatric procedure correctly.

According to the National Institutes of Health, your weight loss surgery may cost between $15,000 and $20,000, depending on the type of procedure and where you live.

Some patients pay this entire amount on their own. If you plan to self-pay, there are healthcare lending services that may be able to help you afford your procedure.

In some cases, insurance will cover the cost of WLS. Medicare and some Medicaid plans also cover the cost of surgery in some situations. You are more likely to get insurance coverage if you have a doctor's recommendation and a medical condition that might be improved if you lose weight. The Obesity Action Coalition provides a comprehensive guide to working with your insurance provider, including forms and helpful tips to get coverage.

How to Find a Weight Loss Surgeon

One of the most important decisions you'll need to make if you consider stomach surgery for weight loss is your choice of surgeon. Your bariatric doctor will guide you through the process and be your go-to resource after surgery is complete. 

Finding the best weight loss doctor means looking for a board-certified surgeon who has specialized experience in the procedure that you will undergo. There are medical organizations that can help you find the best weight loss doctor in your area. The Obesity Medicine Association has an online tool to help you find a physician near your home. You can also find a qualified doctor by searching online through the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery.

In the process of choosing a doctor, you may want to keep a few things in mind. A doctor who is part of a comprehensive bariatric center will usually work closely with other experts who can help you in your journey. Registered dietitians, therapists, and even physical therapists may be conveniently available for you at a dedicated center. And while some people travel to get weight loss surgery, finding a doctor close to home is worthwhile. If complications arise, you won't need to travel back and forth to get the care you need. 

What to Expect After Bariatric Surgery

Some patients experience side effects after weight loss surgery. However, because more surgical procedures are now performed using laparoscopic methods, the complications are often less severe than they were in the past. Laparoscopic surgery is less invasive than traditional forms of surgery. 

A common weight loss surgery side effect is called dumping syndrome. The condition typically happens after eating and can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or dizziness. Some patients also experience heartburn, flatulence, and surgical complications after their procedure. It's important to communicate with your doctor about any unusual side effects that you experience after surgery.

You may also experience social and emotional changes as you lose weight. After surgery, you need to change your daily habits for weight loss to happen. Some patients have to separate from friends or family members who tempt them to overeat. You might also have to seek out new hobbies and social groups that support your new lifestyle. It is not uncommon for WLS patients to experience some level of stress in the months after their procedure is complete.

How fast you lose weight after surgery depends on the type of surgery and your lifestyle following the procedure. According to the National Institutes of Health, many patients lose 10 to 20 pounds in the first few months after surgery. Overall, patients lose an average of about 15 to 30 percent of their starting weight.

A Word From Verywell

Choosing to undergo weight loss surgery is a big decision. It also requires a big commitment to a new lifestyle. We at Verywell want to support you on the path to improved health and wellness. Use our library of weight loss resources, communicate with your health care team, and reach out for support to be successful in your journey to improved health and wellness.

Sources:

Bariatric Surgery. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-topics/weight-control/bariatric-surgery/Pages/overview.aspx

FDA Approves First-of-kind Device to Treat Obesity. http://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Newsroom/PressAnnouncements/ucm430223.htm.

Patient Learning Center - American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery. https://asmbs.org/patients.

Weight Loss Surgery. https://medlineplus.gov/weightlosssurgery.html. 

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