Weight Loss Surgery

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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 or stomach surgery for weight loss. There are several different types of bariatric surgery. The surgical procedures are usually performed by a board-certified bariatric surgeon who also counsels the patient before and after surgery.

In response to the obesity epidemic, obesity medicine, including bariatric 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 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 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.

According to a 2017 study published in JAMA Surgery, patients with a preoperative BMI of less than 40 may achieve a BMI of less than 30 following bariatric surgery and experience a greater likelihood of recovering from their obesity-related health conditions. This means if you have a BMI of 35 (or more), you might be a good candidate for a bariatric procedure, especially 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 weight loss surgery.

Different Types of Weight Loss Surgery

If you think you are a good candidate for weight loss 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 a portion of 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 near the stomach where it is attached to the vagus nerve 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 to reduce the number of calories absorbed.

The best weight loss surgery for you depends on a number of factors, including your lifestyle and health history. Learn more about each procedure and talk to your doctor about the 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 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, the cost of your weight loss surgery experience could be combined into one lump sum. That may mean that 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 to be sure so that you can calculate the total cost of your bariatric procedure correctly.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), weight loss surgery may cost between $15,000 and $25,000, depending on the type of procedure and where you live.

Some patients pay the entire cost of surgery 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 weight loss surgery. 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 on the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery's website.

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 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 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 will need to change your daily habits. 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 weight loss surgery 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, studies show that patients lose an average of about 15% to 30% of their starting weight following bariatric surgery.

A Word From Verywell

Choosing to undergo weight loss surgery is a big decision. It also requires a big commitment to a new lifestyle. Seek out 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.

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9 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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