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Weight loss surgery safe, effective for obesity and reversing disease in study

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Weight loss surgery is both safe and effective. And, say researchers after completing the newest study, it can even reverse diseases ranging from diabetes to high blood pressure, reported Reuters on Dec. 24.

To conduct the new study, researchers evaluated the past decade's data on bariatric surgery procedures to determine the safety, effectiveness and advances. Among the types of weight loss surgery studied: Gastric bypass, adjustable gastric banding (lap banding), vertical banded gastroplasty and sleeve gastrectomy.

However, for those who think that bariatric surgery is a quick solution for weight loss and avoiding the sometimes tedious process of diets, experts emphasize that the procedures are designed only for those who are either severely obese or have serious weight-related health problems with moderate levels of obesity.

Su-Hsin Chang, an instructor with the Division of Public Health Sciences, Department of Surgery at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri who led the new study, stressed that the focus was on effectiveness and safety.

"We planned to answer general questions regarding effectiveness and risks of surgical treatment of obesity and which surgical procedure is the most efficacious," Chang said.

The patients studied as part of Chang's research reflect the fact that obesity tends to occur in middle-age and be accompanied by life-threatening diseases:

  • On average, the patients were about 45 years old and almost 80 percent were female.
  • Their pre-surgery weight averaged 274 pounds.
  • More than a quarter of patients had diabetes.
  • Almost 50 percent had high blood pressure.
  • Nearly 30 percent had high cholesterol.
  • Seven percent had heart disease and 25 percent had sleep apnea.

The improvements after the surgery, however, were dramatic. In addition to weight loss, Chang's researchers determined that conditions such as diabetes and sleep apnea improved significantly:

  • Between 86 percent and 92 percent of patients with diabetes experienced remission of the disease.
  • About 75 percent of those with high blood pressure improved.
  • High cholesterol and heart disease improved.
  • Sleep apnea disappeared or improved dramatically in more than 90 percent of those who had it pre-surgery.

As for specific surgeries, Chang noted that gastric bypass surgeries were the most effective in terms of long-term weight loss. However, that procedure was accompanied by the highest complication rates. Sleeve gastrectomy was almost as effective. And the least effective yet safest: Adjustable gastric bands (lap bands), said researchers.

"Weight loss surgery provides substantial effects on weight loss and improves obesity-related conditions in the majority of bariatric patients, although risks of complication, reoperation and mortality exist," Chang said.

Dr. Pratt Vemulapalli, director of bariatric surgery and an associate professor of surgery at the Montefiore Medical Center of the University Hospital for the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, views the results as helpful for the future.

With about 200,000 weight loss procedures performed each year, the most common remain the gastric bypass, sleeve procedure and, in third place, lap bands.

The information, added Vemulapalli, "makes for safer surgery."

Although this research provided statistics on weight loss surgery, it's the celebrities who are putting a face on bariatric procedures. Comedienne Lisa Lampanelli, for example, was candid on how she turned to weight loss surgery to shed 100 pounds after trying different diets: Read her story by clicking here.

Also bringing attention to the use of weight loss surgery for obesity: Gov. Chris Christie. Although he's stated firmly that he does not want to become a weight loss role model, his decision to undergo the procedure is "good for the industry,” said Dr. Beth Schrope, director of the Center for Metabolic and Weight Loss Surgery at The Valley Hospital in Ridgewood, to the North Jersey Record.

“But what a lot of people don’t see is how difficult it is to maintain the weight loss. It requires a lot of work. This is not an easy way out," she emphasized. Learn more about Christie's weight wars by clicking here.

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