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Weight Loss Surgery for Obesity

Bariatric surgery as a quick fix for obesity in men

Choosing weight loss surgery

An estimated 5% of the adult U.S. population is severely obese, with a BMI over 40. Far more than that are obese or severely overweight and suffer risk factors associated with excess body weight. Many could benefit from bariatric surgery.

Yet despite the growing number of people turning to weight loss surgery, only a very small percentage of dangerously overweight Americans opt for the operations-fewer than 1%, according to recent surveys.

That shouldn't be surprising. The decision to tie off or entirely remove a large part of your stomach and upper intestines isn't an easy one. After the operation, patients must take specially formulated vitamin and mineral supplements for the rest of their life to prevent malnutrition. Gastric bypass surgery also may cause a condition called "dumping," when food, especially sugary food, passes too quickly through the system. It causes symptoms like nausea, bloating, abdominal pain, weakness, sweating, and diarrhea. After the surgery patients must also be careful to eat very small portions and chew carefully.

And there's always the risk of complications. A 2005 study found that the rate of hospitalizations for obese patients almost tripled in the year following gastric bypass surgery.

The benefits of weight loss surgery

Despite these risks, experts say, evidence suggests the procedures are becoming safer and more effective. "While the number of bariatric surgery procedures has increased almost tenfold [from 1998 to 2003], the length of stay and complications have declined and inpatient mortality remained stable," write Bruce M. Wolfe, MD, and John M. Morton, MD, MPH, in a recent editorial in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Mortality stands at between 0.1% and 0.2%, a remarkably low figure for any complicated surgical procedure, says Livingston.

For Garrick Pedersen, the risks were well worth taking, even after his first attempt went dangerously wrong. "Frankly, I feel great. I have more energy. My hips and knees don't hurt like they did. The diabetes is gone," he says. "I'm able to walk and even work out at the gym much longer than before."

If he eats too much, or too quickly, Pedersen can feel pretty uncomfortable for a while. But, he says, after years of going on and off diets and exercise plans, losing weight and gaining it back again, that's a small price to pay to be able to look in the mirror and like what he sees.

Reviewed on July 01, 2007

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