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Probiotics Lower Levels of Harmful Bacteria continued...

Alternately, the changes in weight could have been directly due to the changes in bacteria levels, Morton says.

Gastroenterologists are enthused about the approach. "Even though it's a small study, I would recommend the supplements to patients who experience GI symptoms after surgery," says Mark DeLegge, MD. DeLegge, professor of medicine at the Digestive Disease Center of the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, who moderated a media briefing to discuss the findings.

But, he cautions, patients shouldn't start taking supplements on their own; always check with your doctor first.

Gastric Bypass Surgery

During gastric bypass surgery, surgeons create a smaller stomach pouch, which dramatically reduces the amount of food a person can eat. In addition, a portion of the small intestine is attached to the pouch to allow the food to bypass the rest of the stomach and the upper portion of the small intestine; this cuts calorie and some nutrient absorption.

Morton says that the procedure has revolutionized the care of morbidly obese patients who can't get the pounds off with diet, exercise, and medication. "There's striking weight loss, about 80% at one year. In 82% of patients, it cures diabetes. And there's resolution of hypertension and other medical problems. The benefits clearly outweigh the risk."

But there are risks -- and one that most people don't want to talk about is stool incontinence. At the meeting, other researchers reported that it often gets worse, not better, after weight loss surgery.

University of Wisconsin researchers surveyed 194 patients who had undergone bariatric surgery: 159 underwent gastric bypass surgery and 35 had gastric banding.

Among the findings:

  • About half of patients had stool incontinence, usually in the form of uncontrollable diarrhea, before the surgery. About half of them thought it got worse after surgery.
  • Nearly three-fourths of patients suffered from urinary incontinence before the procedure. Of those, two-thirds reported either an improvement or no change following the procedure.

DeLegge says patients need to tell their doctors if they are experiencing incontinence. For diarrhea, the physician may prescribe extra fiber or medications that make the stool more solid, he says. In some cases, biofeedback can help, DeLegge adds.

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