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Weight Loss Surgery: A Tool for Better Health

By MICHAEL LASALANDRA, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center Correspondent

Weight loss surgery is not just for losing weight. Studies show that losing a great deal of weight can help increase one's overall quality of health.

Upset Stomach Cramps DL
(Photo: iStockphoto)

Bariatric surgery is the most effective way to lose weight fast. With that weight loss, patients often find they can improve or resolve many obesity-related health issues, including type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, sleep apnea, heart disease and more.

Perhaps most dramatically, weight loss can put type 2 diabetes into remission, meaning medications no longer have to be taken to control the disease.

"It's not all about losing weight," says Dr. Daniel Jones, a bariatric surgeon and Director of the Weight Loss Surgery Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. "It's about getting diabetes into remission, controlling hypertension, relieving back and knee pain, lowering cholesterol, cutting the risk of cancer, and treating sleep apnea. All these things get better with weight loss."

The diabetes impact may be the most dramatic and most startling.

"The bottom line is that significant weight loss can lead to remission of type 2 diabetes," says Dr. Martin Abrahamson, an endocrinologist and executive director of the Center for Integrative Health and Wellness at Joslin Diabetes Center, a clinical affiliate of BIDMC.

Curing diabetes is a major motivation for undergoing the surgery. The remission may be in part because of the weight loss itself — those who have surgery often lose 50 to 80 pounds for every 100 pounds overweight they are — but it also may be because surgery changes the anatomy of the stomach and intestines. That may have an effect on the absorption of nutrients and the production of hormones that regulate insulin.

Sleep apnea is also a potentially dangerous condition that can be cured with weight loss.

"Sleep apnea is a condition that is present in a high percentage of obese patients," says Dr. Stephanie Jones, an anesthesiologist and Vice Chair for Education in BIDMC's Department of Anesthesia, Critical Care and Pain Medicine.

With weight gain, a person gains weight in all areas of the body, including the soft tissues of the upper airway. When asleep, such tissues can block the airway and lead to snoring and worse. It can prevent someone from getting a good night's sleep, leaving them always tired and more prone to accidents, stroke, heart rhythm disturbances and high blood pressure.

Many patients with apnea must sleep with a CPAP machine, a very uncomfortable proposition.

"Weight loss is a way to eliminate the issue of apnea and the need for a CPAP machine," Dr. Stephanie Jones says. The operation can eliminate the problem in 50 percent of patients and can reduce it in others, she adds.

Long term follow-up studies of patients who have had bariatric surgery show significant reductions in mortality from heart disease, diabetes and cancer, concludes a British study published in the journal Circulation in 2008.

"There is a significant survival advantage," notes Dr. Daniel Jones.

You may also want to read: Can Weight Loss Surgery Help People with Diabetes?

Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor. Posted February 2015

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