A new study suggests that the risk of death is 0.3% and the chance of serious complications is 4.3% (across the board for different types of bariatric surgery). This is much less than it has been previously reported.
One of the major risk factors is the type of bariatric surgery performed. Some more traditional procedures are much more invasive and therefore come with higher risks. The most common forms of bariatric surgery performed today are traditional gastric bypass procedures and newer lap-band surgery. The latter is performed laparoscopically through small incisions in the abdominal wall. Gastric bypass surgery is a major operation while lap-band surgery can be performed on an out-patient basis. However, even gastric bypass surgery has a very low complication rate.
Co-author of a recent study, Dr. Bruce Wolfe, a professor of surgery at the Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, has stated that bariatric surgery is safe, especially when a patient has few risk factors for complications. People who have had a history of blood clots or sleep apnea or other impaired functional status may be more at risk of complications than others, but even so, having the surgery and losing the weight (which is by itself a major risk of such problems) outweighs the risks and can mean a healthier and longer life.
Results of the Study
Results of the study appeared in the July 30th issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. Bariatric surgery has risen in popularity alongside the rise in obesity. For those who are morbidly obese, the benefits far outweigh the risks, giving the patient a much greater quality of life and a much healthier and longer future to look forward to. The risk of death for someone who has undergone the surgery is around 35% lower than for someone who hasn’t undergone the surgery and remains obese.
However, if a person is only a few pounds overweight, and doesn’t qualify as obese (which is having Body Mass Index of 30 or over), then bariatric surgery isn’t a good option. Surgery is generally only recommended when the benefits greatly outweigh the risks. In fact, Dr. Malcom K. Robinson, an assistant professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School, won’t recommend the surgery unless a patient has a BMI over 35 and associated medical problems such as diabetes or hypertension, or has a BMI over 40 but with no other health problems.
Scope of the Study
The study included 4,776 people who were operated on between March 2005 and December 2007, all of who had some form of bariatric surgery (including lap-band surgery, laparoscopic gastric bypass, open gastric bypass or another form of bariatric surgery). The average age of participants was 44.5 years, 22% of the participants were male and 89% were white. The patients had an average BMI of 46.5, and more than half of the participants had at least two other medical conditions. All surgeries were done by experienced surgeons from high-volume bariatric centers.
It is important to be aware that before undergoing a bariatric surgery procedure, other avenues of weight loss should be attempted. It’s only when a person has tried to lose weight and failed, and their future health is at stake, that bariatric surgery should be considered. The safest form of bariatric surgery is generally considered to be Lap-Band surgery, as it is much less invasive than traditional weight loss surgery procedures. Anyone considering bariatric surgery needs to visit a good doctor to weigh up the benefits of the surgery against any risks.