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"The Flum paper identifies populations with a higher mortality risk if they undergo weight loss surgery," Wolfe says. "These risks are advanced age, male gender, and lower volume of [weight loss] surgery done by the surgeon and the medical center in question."

What about patients who aren't Medicare beneficiaries? David S. Zingmond, MD, PhD, and colleagues at the UCLA Center for Surgical Outcomes and Quality looked at California patients. Overall, less than 1% of patients died within one year of surgery.

Complications After Weight Loss Surgery

Death isn't the only bad thing that can happen after gastric bypass surgery. There can also be surgical complications. How often do these occur? Zingmond's team looked at this.

They looked at records on the more than 60,000 California patients from 1995 to 2004 who underwent what is now the most common weight loss surgery: the Roux-en-Y gastric bypass.

The first thing Zingmond and colleagues found was that many more people are having the surgery than ever before. Of the 60,000 patients who underwent the operation in the 10-year study period, 11,659 had the operation in 2004 alone.

The second thing they found was that the operation often has complications. Obese people have many health problems associated with being obese and end up in the hospital more often than normal-weight people. In the year before gastric bypass surgery, nearly 10% of patients had been admitted to the hospital.

"In the first year after surgery, about 20% get admitted -- about double the baseline rate," Zingmond tells WebMD. "It never gets back down to 10% in first three years after surgery. So we see an increase in rates of hospitalization."

Before surgery, most patients were hospitalized for obesity-related problems. After surgery, most patients were hospitalized for problems arising from the surgery itself in the first two years. "What it really comes down to is for potential patients -- at the time of surgery, not after -- to think about what they are willing to put up with after surgery," Zingmond says. "Other researchers have done the analyses and found that the benefits far outweigh the risks for appropriate patients. But people who are overweight will be more likely to be readmitted to hospital in the first three years after the procedure. They should be prepared for this."

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