HCA Midwest Health - January 14, 2019

Obesity is considered an American epidemic, impacting the lives and lifestyles of millions. In fact, more than 72 million people – those with a body mass index (BMI) of 30-plus – are classified as obese. Obesity is more than just carrying excess weight. It is considered a chronic disease, linked to heart problems, high blood pressure, diabetes, cancers and other health issues.

Dieting and exercise are the healthiest go-tos for weight loss, but are often not enough for dramatic weight loss, Bariatric or weight loss surgery is one of the most powerful weapons we have to help those struggling with obesity jump start weight loss, but fears and misconceptions abound, preventing many from taking advantage.

Board-certified bariatric surgeon, Roger De La Torre, MD from HCA Midwest Health debunks some common weight loss surgery myths and separates fact from fiction.

Myth 1: Weight loss surgery is risky and dangerous

Reality: Bariatric procedures are safer than ever, with faster recovery and low risk

Weight loss procedures have drastically improved over the years and chances of major complications are low.

“A lot of people think of weight loss surgery as it was done decades ago, when it was open surgery with large incisions and the outcome was sometimes less than desired,” says Dr. De La Torre. “That’s not the case anymore. The tremendous advances in surgical options – minimally invasive and endoscopic techniques, robotics, and others – have greatly improved the procedures and outcome. Weight loss surgery today is safer and less invasive with faster recovery.”

On the flip side, the risks of continued obesity — heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, etc. are far greater. Weight loss surgery can alleviate the risk of these conditions.

Myth 2: Weight loss surgery means a long hospital stay and recovery time

Reality: Most procedures are outpatient or require a one-night stay

The vast majority of weight loss surgeries and procedures are done using minimally invasive techniques, which means shorter recovery time and fewer complications. The exact recovery time for patients varies according to their overall health and the procedure they have, but most people recover from weight loss procedures within one-to-two weeks.

Myth 3: Bariatric surgery is a quick and easy fix for fast weight loss

Reality: Surgery is just the first step in a weight loss journey

Bariatric surgery is a tool to help someone who is motivated lose weight, Dr. De La Torre stresses. “You don’t want to come in to surgery with the assumption that the surgery is a light switch you flip and the weight goes and stays away. I tell patients to exercise, eat healthy and get all their nutrients with or without surgery. Diet and exercise become even more important with weight loss surgery. If you don’t do your part, you can lose weight, but not as successfully.”

Dr. De La Torre and other experts say any weight loss procedure is just the first step in a weight loss and better health journey that takes a big commitment to maintain. There’s a reason the first year – where losing 100 pounds is fairly routine – is called the honeymoon. Most weight loss programs, specifically those accredited by the American Society of Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery (ASMBS) are staffed with teams that understand the ongoing work it takes, and thus offer not just surgical procedures, but the education and resources to support patients in their work to sustain their weight loss. Without this support, patients are more apt to regain weight.

Myth 4: People who have weight loss surgery don’t have the willpower to diet and exercise

Reality: Surgery is often the only way for those with extreme obesity to lose weight

This harmful myth keeps people from seeking the help they need. Most patients who seek bariatric surgery have tried dieting and exercise alone, and weight loss surgery is their last, best option to become healthy. Eight out of 10 dieting people fail to maintain their weight loss for more than two years, and those who are severely obese are even less likely to be able to maintain weight loss. According to a National Institutes of Health experts panel, the ability to sustain weight loss is nearly impossible for those affected by severe obesity other than through metabolic and bariatric surgery.

Myth 5: Surgery is a waste because you just regain the weight

Reality: Studies show that most bariatric patients successfully maintain weight loss

It’s not unusual to lose 100 pounds in the first year after bariatric surgery, says Dr. De La Torre. That will slow afterwards, but it is not the “yo-yo” weight loss and gain many dieters experience. Medical studies show most patients are successful at long-term weight loss.

Myth 6: Bariatric surgery is not covered by insurance

Reality: Bariatric surgery is often covered by insurance

Most insurance companies, including the major commercial companies, Medicare and Medicaid, cover weight loss surgery for those who qualify. Patients with a BMI over 35 will typically qualify for insurance-covered bariatric surgery. Those considering bariatric surgery should check with their insurance coverage.

Myth 7: Weight loss surgery will prevent me from ever getting proper nutrition

Reality: A healthy diet and supplements will meet nutritional needs after surgery

Certain weight loss procedures limit the body’s ability to properly absorb vitamins and minerals, so most patients do need to take supplements afterwards. The surgeon, bariatric support staff and educators will provide nutritional counseling on appropriate diet and supplements to ensure you avoid vitamin and mineral deficiencies that can lead to health problems.

Myth 8: Women can’t have children after bariatric surgery

Reality: Alleviating the issue of obesity can actually improve chances of pregnancy

Obesity can impact fertility and cause issues during pregnancy, so weight loss surgery can sometimes help increase the chances of conceiving. Most bariatric surgeons advise waiting at least a year following the surgery to try to get pregnant due to all the changes in a woman’s body. A woman considering surgery should talk with her ObGyn if planning to have children.

Tipping the Scales

Myths officially busted, let’s look at some weight loss surgery truths. The benefits of surgery that alleviates obesity include:

  • Fewer allergies and asthma symptoms
  • Improved mood and self-esteem
  • Relief from joint pain
  • Better sleep
  • Better heart health
  • Remission from diabetes
  • Improved fertility

Weighing the benefits of bariatric surgery

HCA Midwest Health offers the resources and support you need for a successful weight loss journey. With three weight loss surgery centers – in Independence and Lee’s Summit, Mo. and Overland Park, Kan., our multidisciplinary care teams will talk with you about your wants, needs, goals, and partner with you to develop an individualized weight loss care plan that is best for both your physical and emotional health.

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