Like many surgical procedures on the cutting-edge of medical science, the safety and efficacy of bariatric surgery is clouded by some common myths and misconceptions. Therefore, it is very important for patients to have access to accurate, up-to-date information so they can make an educated decision when choosing whether or not bariatric surgery is right for them.
Myth: Bariatric surgery is dangerous
Truth: The risk of death within thirty (30) days following bariatric surgery is about 1 in 1,000 patients, a risk comparable to other commonly-performed surgical procedures like gallbladder removal and hip or knee replacement. Furthermore, advances in laparoscopic surgical techniques have greatly reduced the risk of infection post-surgery, as incisions are now much smaller than with traditional, “open” surgical techniques. Generally speaking, one in ten patients will suffer a complication from bariatric surgery, ranging from nausea and vomiting to more serious issues like blood clots or bleeding.
While bariatric surgery itself is relatively safe, the risks of remaining obese are staggering. Obesity is linked to numerous serious medical conditions, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, high blood pressure and cancer. Studies have shown that individuals with morbid obesity are up to 85% more likely to die over any given time period than patients who undergo bariatric surgery, and weight loss surgery has been shown to reduce the risk of death in obese patients with cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. While bariatric surgery is a serious procedure and should not be taken lightly, clearly the benefits of undergoing the procedure far outweigh the risks of doing nothing.
Myth: Patients eventually regain their weight after surgery
Truth: While it is true that some patients regain lost weight in the years following surgery, the average bariatric surgery patient is successful in losing their excess weight and keeping it off for the long run. Many research studies have demonstrated that most patients maintain successful weight loss long-term, particularly those that undergo duodenal switch, which is the most successful procedure in maintaining long-term weight loss. Furthermore, for those patients who do experience weight regain, it typically amounts to only five to ten percent of weight lost. Clearly the diet, exercise and lifestyle changes brought about by bariatric surgery have a certain “stickiness” that remains with patients beyond the initial recovery phase and helps them maintain long-term weight loss success.
One must remember that bariatric surgery patients have typically spent years adhering to fad diets and exercise programs with little to no success, so the rapid, significant weight loss that is induced by and typically maintained through, bariatric surgery and its accompanying diet and lifestyle changes can hardly be viewed as anything but a massive success.
Myth: Results are variable following bariatric surgery
Truth: Nobody can guarantee favorable outcomes with any medical procedure, surgical or otherwise. However, national quality assurance programs have established Center of Excellence (COE) designations for facilities that demonstrate the highest levels of patient safety and satisfaction, and consistently deliver favorable outcomes for patients. Centers of Excellence have been shown to ensure consistent, excellent outcomes in bariatric surgery, so patients should seek out physicians who operate in these Centers when looking for a surgeon to begin their journey to bariatric surgery.
Myth: Only surgeons endorse bariatric surgery
Truth: The tremendous health benefits of bariatric surgery, including and beyond significant weight loss, are well established. As such, multiple health organizations endorse bariatric surgery as a reliable treatment for obesity, including National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), American Diabetes Association (ADA), and the American Medical Association (AMA). Many of the above-listed organizations are not dominated by surgeons or surgical subspecialists, so this criticism of bariatric surgery falls flat when examined in light of the wide-ranging body of health organizations that endorse the procedure.