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So You're Thinking About Getting Weight Loss Surgery...

By Zawn Villines
Weight loss surgery can help you lose weight and keep it off if other weight loss methods have failed. Here's what you need to know if you're considering bariatric surgery.

In 2018, an estimated 252,000 Americans chose weight loss surgery. A 2015 analysis found that most patients are satisfied with surgery, and more than 91 percent would recommend it to someone else. However, weight loss surgery presents several risks, and many people continue to experience dissatisfaction with their bodies after surgery. If you're thinking about getting weight loss surgery, here's what you should know.

Who is Eligible for Weight Loss Surgery?

There are two types of weight loss surgery eligibility: medical and insurance eligibility. Insurance eligibility means that your insurance will pay for the surgery. Each insurer establishes its own criteria for funding surgery, but in most cases, surgery must be medically necessary and you may have to pay a deductible.

To be medically eligible for weight loss surgery, you usually have to meet all of these criteria:

  • You have a body mass index (BMI) higher than 40, or a BMI higher than 35 and a weight-related health issue.
  • You have not been able to lose weight or sustain weight loss with traditional methods. Weight loss surgery requires significant lifestyle changes.
  • You are able to follow the lifestyle requirements that bariatric surgery demands.

Some medical providers may have additional requirements, so consult the surgeon you hope to use.

Does Weight Loss Surgery Work?

Most people successfully lose weight with bariatric surgery. On average, people lose 60 to 70 percent of their excess body weight, though some lose more. About half of patients regain a small amount of weight, but most are able to sustain the majority of their weight loss.

A 2015 analysis found an average body mass index (BMI) of about 31 among those who chose bariatric surgery. This means that a person might still be overweight or obese following surgery, but is unlikely to remain severely obese.

Benefits of Weight Loss Surgery

Most people who undergo weight loss surgery successfully lose much of their excess weight. This can improve their body image, help them feel healthier, and reduce the daily stresses of being overweight.

Bariatric surgery may also help you live longer, especially if you are relatively young and have obesity-related health conditions. A 2015 study, for example, found that a 45-year-old woman with a BMI of 45 and type 2 diabetes would gain an average of 6.7 additional years to her life with weight loss surgery.

Weight loss may also reduce the weight-related stigma and discrimination you experience.

Risks and Drawbacks of Weight Loss Surgery

Like other surgeries, weight loss surgery carries some risks, including the risk of complications related to anesthesia, infection, bleeding, or surgical errors. As bariatric surgery has become more mainstream, complication rates have dropped--from 10.5 percent of cases in 1993 to 7.6 percent in 2006. Complications may require more surgery. In very rare cases, they may be fatal. However, research consistently shows that people who undergo bariatric surgery live longer than obese people who do not.

Some other drawbacks of bariatric surgery include:

  • Less weight loss than expected. A 2015 study found that most people who had weight loss surgery lost slightly less weight than they expected.
  • Body dissatisfaction. A 2013 study of 64 weight loss surgery patients found that nearly 90 percent developed sagging skin. Some patients are less satisfied with their post-surgery body than they anticipated being. In a 2015 analysis, 34.9 percent of patients felt dissatisfied to very dissatisfied with their naked bodies.
  • Long-term lifestyle changes. Bariatric surgery requires special diets and long-term lifestyle changes. Some surgical procedures require you to take supplements, and increase the risk of nutritional deficiencies. You will need to work with a nutritionist and closely follow a healthy eating plan.