Bariatric surgery better than diets for sustained weight loss

Bariatric surgery has been shown to be the most effective treatment for substantial and sustained weight loss with a significant reduction in obesity related conditions and long term mortality according to the National Confidential Enquiry into Patient Outcome and Death 2014. Bariatric surgery operations are likely to become more popular as a result.

Bariatric surgery is particularly helpful for diabetics because it can greatly improve blood sugar control and even induce complete remission of type two diabetes. NICE recommends that those with a body mass index over 30 who have had diabetes for under ten years are considered for the operation. Asians may be considered at even lower BMIs.  Simple observation will demonstrate that there are many more people eligible for these operations than can currently be dealt with on the NHS. Indeed currently just under a third of patients pay for the operations themselves.

There are various types of surgery. Some reduce the area of the stomach like the laparoscopic adjustable band,  and some reduce absorption of nutrients like the sleeve gastrectomy. Some are a mixture of the two like the Roux-en-Y gastric band which is the commonest procedure that also produces the greatest weight loss.

Excess weight loss can be as high as 58% with patients’ weight levelling off after two years. Weight gain can recur and this can be due to not following the diet or a surgical failure than needs adjustment.

Once referred to a bariatric clinic the advantages and disadvantages of the various types of surgery is discussed. Psychological support and dietetic support is given. I recall that a bariatric surgeon told me that people referred to his clinic had very marked self- esteem issues and often defaulted from the clinic.

The short term problems after surgery include wound infections, vomiting, intolerance to pureed meals, problems swallowing and leaks at the staple lines for some operations.

Long term patients will need to continue to restrict calories and take multivitamins.  Acid suppression therapy is often required and patients should avoid non- steroidal anti-inflammatories. Gall stones may occur and may require surgical removal.  Hair loss may occur but is temporary.

After a Roux-en-Y operation calories are restricted to less than a thousand a day.  Patients have to take a protein rich diet so they do not become deficient. Iron supplement are particularly needed by women. Most people require vitamin B12 injections every 3 to 6 months. B vitamins, calcium and vitamin D, and the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K may be needed.  Annual checks of full blood count, electrolytes, liver function, glucose, iron, ferritin, vitamin D, B 12, calcium, parathyroid hormone, thiamine, folate and selenium are required.

The good news for diabetic  is that blood sugars often improve a great deal and for many  return to normal. Thus insulin and drug requirements will lessen or even stop.  Blood pressure, lipid problems and obstructive sleep- apnea also improve or resolve.

Women may find that they are able to conceive after bariatric surgery but this is discouraged for about 18 months after surgery because of the rapid weight loss and nutritional deficiencies that are common at this time. There is more risk of pre-term and small for age births in women post- surgery.

It can be seen that should the number of surgeries be increased to anything like what is required to deal with the obesity/diabetes epidemic, that resources for long term follow up of these patients will also need to be improved. Support for General Practitioners  will be needed, particularly as there is not sufficient structured follow up, particularly for those who have had operations out with the NHS and even abroad.

Based on article by Vamshi P Jagadesham and Marion Sloan from Sheffield in British Journal of General Practice August 2014.

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