For many patients, the risk of death is greater from “doing nothing” about morbid obesity than the risk of dying from weight loss surgery complications.
That is the key reason that in 2000, approximately 40,000 weight loss surgical procedures were performed and why the American Society for Metabolic & Bariatric Surgery estimates that 50,000 weight loss surgical procedures will be performed in 2001. Patients who have had the procedure and are benefiting from its results report improvements in their quality of life, social interactions, psychological well-being, employment opportunities and economic condition.
In clinical studies, candidates for the procedure who had multiple obesity-related health conditions questioned whether they could safely have the surgery. These studies show that selection of surgical candidates is based on very strict criteria and surgery is an option for the majority of patients.
Weight loss surgery is major surgery. Although most patients enjoy an improvement in obesity-related health conditions (such as mobility, self-image and self-esteem) after the successful results of weight loss surgery, these results should not be the overriding motivation for having the procedure.
The goal is to live better, healthier and longer.
That is why you should make the decision to have weight loss surgery only after careful consideration and consultation with an experienced bariatric surgeon or a knowledgeable family physician. A qualified surgeon should answer your questions clearly and explain the exact details of the procedure, the extent of the recovery period and the reality of the follow-up care that will be required. They may, as part of routine evaluation for weight loss surgery, require that you consult with a dietitian/nutritionist and a psychiatrist/therapist. This is to help establish a clear understanding of the post-operative changes in behavior that are essential for long-term success.
It is important to remember that there are no ironclad guarantees in any kind of medicine or surgery. There can be unexpected outcomes in even the simplest procedures. What can be said, however, is that weight loss surgery will only succeed when the patient makes a lifelong commitment. Some of the challenges facing a person after weight loss surgery can be unexpected. Lifestyle changes can strain relationships within families and between married couples. To help patients achieve their goals and deal with the changes surgery and weight loss can bring, most bariatric surgeons offer follow-up care that includes support groups, dietitians and other forms of continuing education.
Ultimately, the decision to have the procedure is entirely up to you. After having heard all the information, you must decide if the benefits outweigh the side effects and potential complications. This surgery is only a tool. Your ultimate success depends on strict adherence to the recommended dietary, exercise and lifestyle changes.
How Surgery Works: The Gastrointestinal Tract
To better understand how weight loss surgery works, it is important to understand how your gastrointestinal tract functions. As the food you consume moves through the tract, various digestive juices and enzymes are introduced at specific stages that allow absorption of nutrients. Food material that is not absorbed is then prepared for elimination. A simplified description of the gastrointestinal tract appears below. Your doctor can provide a more detailed description to help you better understand how weight loss surgery works.
- The esophagus is a long muscular tube, which moves food from the mouth to the stomach.
- The abdomen contains all of the digestive organs.
- The stomach, situated at the top of the abdomen, normally holds just over 3 pints (about 1500 ml) of food from a single meal. Here the food is mixed with an acid that is produced to assist in digestion. In the stomach, acid and other digestive juices are added to the ingested food to facilitate breakdown of complex proteins, fats and carbohydrates into small, more absorbable units.
- A valve at the entrance to the stomach from the esophagus allows the food to enter while keeping the acid-laden food from "refluxing" back into the esophagus, causing damage and pain.
- The pylorus is a small round muscle located at the outlet of the stomach and the entrance to the duodenum (the first section of the small intestine). It closes the stomach outlet while food is being digested into a smaller, more easily absorbed form. When food is properly digested, the pylorus opens and allows the contents of the stomach into the duodenum.
- The small intestine is about 15 to 20 feet long (4.5 to 6 meters) and is where the majority of the absorption of the nutrients from food takes place. The small intestine is made up of three sections: the duodenum, the jejunum and the ileum.
- The duodenum is the first section of the small intestine and is where the food is mixed with bile produced by the liver and with other juices from the pancreas. This is where much of the iron and calcium is absorbed.
- The jejunum is the middle part of the small intestine extending from the duodenum to the ileum; it is responsible for digestion.
- The last segment of the intestine, the ileum, is where the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K and other nutrients are absorbed.
- Another valve separates the small and large intestines to keep bacteria-laden colon contents from coming back into the small intestine.
- In the large intestines, excess fluids are absorbed and a firm stool is formed. The colon may absorb protein, when necessary.
How Surgery Reduces Weight
Surgeons first began to recognize the potential for surgical weight loss while performing operations that required the removal of large segments of a patient's stomach and intestine. After the surgery, doctors noticed that in many cases patients were unable to maintain their pre-surgical weight. With further study, surgeons were able to recommend similar modifications that could be safely used to produce weight loss in morbidly obese patients. Over the last decade these procedures have been continually refined in order to improve results and minimize risks. Today's bariatric surgeons have access to a substantial body of clinical data to help them determine which surgeries should be used and why.
Today, the American Society for Metabolic & Bariatric Surgery describes two basic approaches that weight loss surgery takes to achieve change:
- Restrictive procedures that decrease food intake.
- Malabsorptive procedures that alter digestion, thus causing the food to be poorly digested and incompletely absorbed so that it is eliminated in the stool.
Surgical Treatment: Types of Bariatric Surgery
If diet and behavior modifications have failed you and surgical treatment is your next option, it is important to understand that diet and behavior modification will be instrumental to sustained weight loss after your surgery. Weight loss surgery is only a tool to get your body to start losing weight - complying with diet and behavior modifications required by most surgeons would determine your ultimate success.
Surgery should be viewed primarily as a treatment method for alleviating a debilitating, chronic disease (morbid obesity). In most cases, the minimum qualification for consideration as a candidate for the procedure is 100 lbs. above ideal body weight or those with a Body Mass Index of 40 or greater. Occasionally a procedure will be considered for someone with a BMI of 35 or higher if the patient's physician determines that obesity-related health conditions have resulted in a medical need for weight reduction and, in the doctor's opinion, surgery appears to be the only way to accomplish the targeted weight loss. In many cases, patients are required to show proof that their attempts at dietary weight loss have been ineffective before surgery will be approved. More important, however, is the commitment on the part of the patient for the required, long-term follow-up care.
Weight loss surgery is major surgery. Its growing use to treat morbid obesity is the result of three factors:
- Our current knowledge of the significant health risks of morbid obesity
- The relatively low risk and complications of the procedures versus not having the surgery
- The ineffectiveness of current non-surgical approaches to produce sustained weight loss
Weight Loss Surgery Options
The American Society for Metabolic & Bariatric Surgery describes two basic approaches that weight loss surgery takes to achieve change:
- Restrictive procedures that decrease food intake.
- Malabsorptive procedures that alter digestion, thus causing the food to be poorly digested and incompletely absorbed so that it is eliminated in the stool
|Combined Restrictive & Malabsorptive Procedure - Gastric Bypass Roux-en-Y|
|Laparoscopic or Minimally Invasive Surgery|
In recent years, better clinical understanding of procedures combining restrictive and malabsorptive approaches has increased the choices of effective weight loss surgery for thousands of patients. By adding malabsorption, food is delayed in mixing with bile and pancreatic juices that aid in the absorption of nutrients. The result is an early sense of fullness, combined with a sense of satisfaction that reduces the desire to eat.
According to the American Society for Metabolic & Bariatric Surgery and the National Institutes of Health, Roux-en-Y gastric bypass is the current gold standard procedure for weight loss surgery. It is one of the most frequently performed weight loss procedures in the United States. In this procedure, stapling creates a small (15 to 20cc) stomach pouch. The remainder of the stomach is not removed, but is completely stapled shut and divided from the stomach pouch. The outlet from this newly formed pouch empties directly into the lower portion of the jejunum, thus bypassing calorie absorption. This is done by dividing the small intestine just beyond the duodenum for the purpose of bringing it up and constructing a connection with the newly formed stomach pouch. The other end is connected into the side of the Roux limb of the intestine creating the "Y" shape that gives the technique its name. The length of either segment of the intestine can be increased to produce lower or higher levels of malabsorption.
- The average excess weight loss after the Roux-en-Y procedure is generally higher in a compliant patient than with purely restrictive procedures.
- One year after surgery, weight loss can average 77% of excess body weight.
- Studies show that after 10 to 14 years, 50-60% of excess body weight loss has been maintained by some patients.
- A 2000 study of 500 patients showed that 96% of certain associated health conditions studied (back pain, sleep apnea, high blood pressure, diabetes and depression) were improved or resolved.
- Because the duodenum is bypassed, poor absorption of iron and calcium can result in the lowering of total body iron and a predisposition to iron deficiency anemia. This is a particular concern for patients who experience chronic blood loss during excessive menstrual flow or bleeding hemorrhoids. Women, already at risk for osteoporosis that can occur after menopause, should be aware of the potential for heightened bone calcium loss.
- Bypassing the duodenum has caused metabolic bone disease in some patients, resulting in bone pain, loss of height, humped back and fractures of the ribs and hip bones. All of the deficiencies mentioned above, however, can be managed through proper diet and vitamin supplements.
- A chronic anemia due to Vitamin B12 deficiency may occur. The problem can usually be managed with Vitamin B12 pills or injections.
- A condition known as "dumping syndrome " can occur as the result of rapid emptying of stomach contents into the small intestine. This is sometimes triggered when too much sugar or large amounts of food are consumed. While generally not considered to be a serious risk to your health, the results can be extremely unpleasant and can include nausea, weakness, sweating, faintness and, on occasion, diarrhea after eating. Some patients are unable to eat any form of sweets after surgery.
- In some cases, the effectiveness of the procedure may be reduced if the stomach pouch is stretched and/or if it is initially left larger than 15-30cc.
- The bypassed portion of the stomach, duodenum and segments of the small intestine cannot be easily visualized using X-ray or endoscopy if problems such as ulcers, bleeding or malignancy should occur.
For the last decade, laparoscopic procedures have been used in a variety of general surgeries. Many people mistakenly believe that these techniques are still "experimental." In fact, laparoscopy has become the predominant technique in some areas of surgery and has been used for weight loss surgery for several years. Although few bariatric surgeons perform laparoscopic weight loss surgeries, more are offering patients this less invasive surgical option whenever possible. When a laparoscopic operation is performed, a small video camera is inserted into the abdomen. The surgeon views the procedure on a separate video monitor. Most laparoscopic surgeons believe this gives them better visualization and access to key anatomical structures. The camera and surgical instruments are inserted through small incisions made in the abdominal wall. This approach is considered less invasive because it replaces the need for one long incision to open the abdomen. A recent study shows that patients having had laparoscopic weight loss surgery experience less pain after surgery resulting in easier breathing and lung function and higher overall oxygen levels. Other realized benefits with laparoscopy have been fewer wound complications such as infection or hernia, and patients returning more quickly to pre-surgical levels of activity.
Laparoscopic procedures for weight loss surgery employ the same principles as their "open" counterparts and produce similar excess weight loss. Not all patients are candidates for this approach, just as all bariatric surgeons are not trained in the advanced techniques required to perform this less invasive method. The American Society for Metabolic & Bariatric Surgery recommends that laparoscopic weight loss surgery should only be performed by surgeons who are experienced in both laparoscopic and open bariatric procedures.