The Benefits of Bariatric Surgery Beyond Weight Loss
The topic of this blog is particularly interesting because while the most visible benefit of bariatric surgery is weight loss, it is not the most important nor is it the one that we focus on. In fact, we consider weight loss to be a very welcome side effect to the true purpose of bariatric surgery – disease improvement and/or resolution. What does that mean exactly?
When we talk to a patient about bariatric surgery, we want them to understand that this procedure is about their health, longevity, and ability to perform activities that keep them healthy in the future. It is not about looking better or having a better social life or even having better prospects in work and elsewhere. The weight loss process after bariatric surgery is hard work and not everyone is ready for that. In fact, we stress the idea that bariatric surgery is a very personal decision and patients must be comfortable with the hard work ahead.
So, while weight loss and the improvement in obesity is linked to many of the most important benefits of bariatric surgery, the weight loss itself is very much secondary. Let’s take some of the benefits one by one:
- Improvement in the comorbidities associated with morbid obesity. Of course, obesity causes a host of problems in the body – from joint problems to increasing the risk of and severity of some cancers. In the end, losing weight through bariatric surgery can improve cardiovascular issues, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, risk of cancer, GERD, sleep apnea and much, much more.
- Bariatric surgery may also have a long-term financial benefit. Whether your insurance covers surgery or you pay cash, losing weight often results in significantly reduced bills. Comprehensive studies vary on exactly how much savings you can expect, but you can realize these savings in the form of fewer doctors’ appointments, reduced need for medication, fewer emergency or urgent medical interventions in the future and simply lower food costs.
- Bariatric surgery may also improve fertility in women of childbearing age. In fact, obesity can cause several hormonal and physical changes that inhibit a woman’s ability to have a child. Many women, having had bariatric surgery, find that they can now conceive. While this is not a guarantee, and it is important to speak to a fertility specialist to rule out other possible issues, losing weight is positive both for male and female fertility.
- Lifestyle improvements. While we can quote statistics about how beneficial losing weight is, bariatric surgery does confer some intangible benefits as well. One of these is simply: ability. The ability to perform activities that you may never have been able to or to regain your ability to perform enjoyable or essential activities. This can be something as simple as tying a shoe or fitting in a ride at a theme park. For others, disability associated with morbid obesity is much more severe and can include difficulty walking any significant distance, poor sleep leading to accidents, inability to perform their work and more.
- Improved opportunities. Unfortunately, obesity comes with a good deal of unwarranted stigma. This is, sadly, unavoidable and many who suffer from excess weight do not enjoy the social and career opportunities that their normal BMI counterparts often do. Several studies have followed bariatric surgery patients who have subsequently increased their prospects through a combination of improved looks, ability and confidence.
- To that end, some of the benefits of bariatric surgery may also cause a bit of turmoil. For some, these challenges may be more than they want to handle. For others, they can be a welcome reset in their lives. One of the most common challenges is that of changing relationships with their loved ones and friends. These people are used to the “old you” and following a lifestyle that is very much tied to the number on the scale. As patients lose weight and regain their confidence, they begin to seek social circumstances that were once unthinkable. Those around them may think this very unusual and may feel left behind. While this is not necessarily true – most bariatric patients are just broadening their horizons for the first time in many years, it can be perceived as a threat by spouse, family or friends. Patients therefore need to navigate these relationships very carefully after bariatric surgery. Some may be repaired very easily with a simple conversation while others may be fractured and require far more help to resurrect. Most importantly though, the confidence built after bariatric surgery is an important part of motivation longer term.
The benefits of bariatric surgery, beyond simple weight loss, extend significantly, into every part of the patient’s life – from disease improvement, to improved aesthetics and even improved psychological well-being. This can only happen in a patient who fully understands the benefits and risks of their bariatric procedure – both at the pros and cons of surgery, but also of how their lives will change – everyone’s life will change after surgery.
The most important next steps are to gather as much information as you can. Reading this blog is a great first step. Next, you can look at Dr. Higa’s online seminar and schedule a consultation in our office to get a better understanding of the procedures that might be best for you. We can also introduce you to prior patients who have had the same questions and have navigated the post bariatric surgery opportunities and challenges that you will experience.