Is Weight-Loss Surgery Worth It?March 29, 2022 - Katie McCallum
If you're considering weight-loss surgery, also called bariatric surgery, understanding whether it's right for you is an important step in the research process.
Perhaps you've already determined you're a candidate, but now you're wrestling with whether the procedure is actually worth it.
Even putting cost aside, after all, it's surgery. Are you definitely sure you want to take that step?
"What I don't think many people realize is the impact that increased weight has on a person's risk of developing many illnesses and diseases," says Dr. Vadim Sherman, Division Head of Bariatric Surgery at Houston Methodist. "While weight loss on its own is an obvious benefit of weight-loss surgery, how it can improve your health is even more important."
What are the benefits of weight-loss surgery?
According to Dr. Sherman, more than 80% of obese people also have at least one weight-related chronic health condition.
Diseases and health issues associated with excessive weight include:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Sleep apnea
- Heart disease
- Acid reflux, also called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- Stress urinary incontinence
- Fatty liver disease
It can even increase a person's risk of cancer.
"All of the ways in which obesity affects a person's health are what prompt us to sometimes take a step as drastic as weight-loss surgery," explains Dr. Sherman. "We know that weight loss alone can improve these conditions, but the dramatic weight loss achieved through surgery can help treat and, in some cases, even resolve them."
As Dr. Sherman puts it, the major benefit of weight-loss surgery isn't just the weight loss — it's that it can reverse obesity's most dangerous side effects.
Perhaps this is best appreciated with diabetes — one of the most costly health conditions affecting Americans — which currently is rising at an alarming rate.
"Weight-loss surgery is shown to resolve type 2 diabetes in 83% of people who had the condition prior to undergoing the procedure," adds Dr. Sherman. "Many of these people are even able to get off of their diabetes medications altogether. There is no better therapy for diabetes than weight-loss surgery."
Weight-loss surgery can also help with GERD, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and all of the other listed weight-related health conditions.
Who can benefit from weight-loss surgery?
"Those who can benefit from weight-loss surgery include people who have a BMI of 35 or higher and one or more of the medical conditions mentioned," says Dr. Sherman. "Additionally, those who have a BMI of 40 or higher can also benefit — even if they don't have any health issues — since excessive weight puts them at risk for these issues."
Still, whether weight-loss surgery is right for you is about more than just being eligible for the procedure.
"Weight-loss surgery is only a tool, and long-term weight loss and resolution of weight-related health conditions isn't a guarantee," says Dr. Sherman. "After the procedure, you'll have to focus on using this tool effectively. There's risk of weight regain if permanent changes aren't made."
In other words, those who benefit most from weight-loss surgery are people who are committed to making long-term lifestyle changes, including eating healthy and exercising frequently.
"Looking for a weight-loss surgery program that offers comprehensive aftercare — including nutrition advice and monthly support groups — can help ensure that you keep weight off and reap the health benefits of weight-loss surgery," Dr. Sherman adds.
Do the benefits of weight-loss surgery outweigh the risks?
"When multiple attempts at weight loss have failed, weight-loss surgery becomes worth it because its benefits far outweigh the chance of complications," says Dr. Sherman.
Like all surgical procedures, weight-loss surgery carries some risk. But that risk is low, Dr. Sherman says, when the procedure is performed by a bariatric surgeon who's part of an accredited program recognized by the American College of Surgeons (ACS).
That does mean you'll want to do your research, though.
Such research should include looking for a comprehensive program that, in addition to having a focus on your aftercare, also works to optimize your treatment prior to surgery in order to ensure the lowest risk of complications.
"At Houston Methodist Center for Weight Loss & Bariatric Surgery, our primary goal is safety," says Dr. Sherman. "We want to achieve the best results with as few complications as possible. We do this using proven techniques. There are several different types of weight-loss surgeries available, but we concentrate on the ones shown to have excellent long-term weight-loss outcomes while still being a safe way to provide that weight loss."