Is Bariatric Surgery Right for You?

Around 27 percent of adults in the UK are clinically obese. If diet and exercise have failed, weight loss surgery may be a viable option

Bariatric surgery—also known as weight loss surgery—is an umbrella term for a variety of procedures that are performed to help people with obesity lose weight. While bariatric surgery may seem like a quick fix, most doctors will only suggest it as a last resort. During your initial consultation, your medical practitioner may wish to get a better understanding of what weight loss methods you have already tried. They may even suggest a new nutritional plan and exercise regime for you before suggesting the procedure. Bariatric surgery is sometimes an option for those who have been diagnosed with—or are at risk of developing—Type 2 diabetes or high blood pressure. The most common types of this procedure are: 

•   Gastric band

•   Gastric bypass

•   Sleeve gastrectomy

•   Intra-gastric balloon 

There are a number of risks to consider when opting for surgery; many of the routes are invasive and can therefore incur complications. If you do decide that surgery is the only way forward, you will be referred to a specialist clinic to check your eligibility. You will undergo a number of tests to monitor your physical and mental health along with your dietary patterns. This may include blood tests and X-rays to determine whether it’s safe to proceed. While each procedure can lead to significant weight loss, each does have its own advantages and disadvantages. 

Gastric band

A gastric band procedure consists of inserting an adjustable ring around the stomach which creates a small pouch towards the top of the organ. This procedure allows the patient to feel full far quicker than they would normally as the stomach isn’t physically able to hold as much food. The band is connected to a small device, usually placed beneath the chest. Four to six weeks after the surgery, the band will be tightened for the first time by injecting the device with a salt-water solution. In rare cases the band can move out of place or dislodge, requiring revision surgery. This type of operation is also said to be less effective than others in aiding with diabetes. While the gastric band controls portion size, it is up to the patient to follow a healthy and balanced diet. 

Gastric bypass

This option involves the stomach being surgically stapled to form a small pouch at the top. The upper portion of the stomach is then connected to the small intestine, avoiding the rest of the stomach (effectively bypassing it). Less food will be needed to make you feel full and fewer calories will be absorbed from the food you eat. While results are proven to be very successful with this treatment, patients will usually need regular check-ups. After bypass surgery, you will also be required to take vitamin and mineral supplements—this is to prevent the onset of anaemia or malnourishment.

Sleeve gastrectomy

A sleeve gastrectomy is usually performed with a laparoscopy (a keyhole procedure). This involves cutting along the length of the stomach and removing a large portion of it. What is left is a far smaller stomach that allows less food to be consumed by the patient. This option allows food to enter and leave the stomach in the same way it did prior to surgery—unlike the gastric bypass. As the small intestines are not disconnected or altered in any way there is no need for supplements to be taken after treatment. However, some find this approach a little more daunting because it is irreversible—unlike the gastric band.

Intra-gastric balloon 

The intra-gastric balloon is fitted by feeding a small, thin tube down the throat or by swallowing a pill with the tube attached to it. Once in the stomach, the balloon will be inflated with air or a saline solution. The balloon creates a smaller area for food to fit into the stomach. This is one of the newest options and is also only temporary—the balloon is removed after six months. By that time, the appetite of the patient will have reduced. This procedure should complement a healthy diet and exercise routine rather than replace it; a large amount of effort will need to be put in by the patient after the balloon is removed. This alternative method is particularly attractive to those who are concerned about invasive surgery—there is no cutting or stapling involved in the process at all.

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