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Weight Loss Surgery Safe for Seniors

Older Patients Can Benefit From Gastric Bypass Surgery, Researchers Say
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WebMD Health News

Feb. 22, 2005 -- Gastric bypass surgery isn't just for the young, says a study in February's Archives of Surgery.

The weight loss procedure has soared in popularity. Gastric bypass was performed 10 times as often in 2001 as in 1987.

In the procedure, surgeons bypass the stomach by closing off a section of the stomach, leaving a small pouch that accommodates a few ounces of food. That drastically reduces the amount of food that people can eat. The pouch is attached to part of the small intestine so that food bypasses the rest of the stomach to reduce absorption of calories and nutrients.

Obesity Boom Drives Demand

Interest in gastric bypass has grown along with America's waistline. Nearly 20% of the U.S. population was obese in 2001, compared to 12% 10 years earlier, say James Swain, MD, and colleagues from the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Dramatic weight loss stories from celebrities and other obese people who've undergone the surgery have also fueled interest. Less invasive procedures have also become available that avoid the large incision normally made during the bypass procedure and cut down on in-hospital recovery time.

But some headlines have noted the dangers that can occur. Last October, two studies showed that the short-term dangers may be higher than previously thought, although the long-term benefits of shedding extra pounds could make the surgery worthwhile.

Does Age Make a Difference in Gastric Bypass Surgery?

The risks apply to everyone. Weight loss surgery isn't done casually; it's a last resort for overweight or obese individuals who have tried other methods and have been unsuccessful. But age alone doesn't rule out the procedure, say James Swain, MD, and colleagues from the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Provided that older patients are healthy enough to have the surgery, "patients of advanced age can safely undergo [gastric bypass]," write the researchers.

That goes against some providers' policies, they say. Since so many people are obese and Americans are living longer than ever before, Swain's team took a fresh look at gastric bypass surgery and age.

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