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Bariatric Surgery

A Radical Obesity Fix

Serious Side Effects

As with any major operation, bariatric surgery is far from foolproof. The death rate nears 1%, meaning up to 400 people may die from the procedure this year alone. As many as 20% of patients need additional surgery to mend complications, such as abdominal hernias. Due to malabsorption in the shortened digestive tract, roughly 30% of patients develop nutritional deficiencies, such as anemia and osteoporosis, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

Then there are the lifestyle changes. People who once ate freely and copiously must become hyperattentive to their diets. The new stomach requires several tiny, nutrient-rich meals a day supplemented with additional vitamins and minerals. Eating too much or indulging in rich, sugary, or fried foods can overload the sensitive pouch and cause dumping -- a term used to describe the sweats, chills, and nausea that result from food filling the pouch and overflowing straight into the small intestine.

Bailey knows the dangers of the surgery firsthand. Two days after her bariatric procedure, she was rushed back to the operating room with life-threatening complications. What began as relatively routine surgery with a three-day hospital stay suddenly became a fight for her life and, ultimately, an agonizing three-month stint in the intensive care unit. But Bailey doesn't have any regrets. "I would do it again in a heartbeat. Life is wonderful today. I feel like Cinderella," she tells WebMD.

It's the small things that mean the most to her now, like relaxing into a movie seat, scooting past people in a crowded room with grace, and enjoying flirtatious looks from men. "For the first time in my life, men take a second look at me," Bailey says. "At first I thought my husband might be jealous, but instead he just beams. I've turned into a beautiful woman."

Slimming Results

Bailey's success story is a common one. In 75% of cases, bariatric surgery succeeds where other methods fail. Dramatic weight loss begins immediately after the procedure and levels off in 18 to 24 months. The average patient loses between 50% and 75% of his/her excess weight and keeps it off -- a feat no diet or drug has yet to match.

It's clear that nonoperative treatment doesn't work for the severely obese, Brolin says. "In this group, the failure rate of dieting approaches 100%."

Other weight-loss experts concur. Compare bariatric surgery to dieting and it's no contest, says John Foreyt, a psychologist at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, who works extensively with bariatric surgery patients. The average dieter loses 10% of his body weight. For someone who is severely obese, that can be a mere 30 or 35 pounds, says Foreyt.

Using behavior modification, such as diet and exercise, the most weight a person can hope to shed is one to two pounds per week, says Randall Flanery, a psychologist at the St. Louis Behavioral Medicine Institute in St. Louis. At that rate, a person who needs to drop 150 to 200 pounds may die of an obesity-related illness before getting the weight off, he says.

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