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Weight-Loss Surgery Surging

Weight-loss surgery is leaping in popularity in the United States, according to a new study.

The research in the Archives of Surgery indicates the number of bariatric, or weight-loss, surgeries rose by 450 percent between 1998 and 2002, with a leap from 12,775 to 70,256 cases.

Laparoscopic, or minimally-invasive bariatric surgery, increased from 2.1 percent to 17.9 percent of the operations.

The American Society for Bariatric Surgery estimated that approximately 140,000 bariatric procedures would be performed in 2004.

The Early Show medical correspondent Dr. Emily Senay

that for dangerously obese people, bariatric surgery works when diet, exercise and drug therapy fail. It's proven to reduce weight and keep it off, and to improve or cure obesity-related health problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and sleep apnea.

Bariatric surgery has risks comparable to other major procedures. The risks are higher for patients 65 and older, especially older men. And research shows the risk of being hospitalized is higher in the year following bariatric surgery.

The most commonly done form of the surgery, Senay says, is known as gastric bypass, in which the stomach size is reduced and the small intestine rerouted to minimize calorie intake.

A strict diet and exercise program after surgery are necessary to keep weight off.

Along with the medical benefits, the researchers say the explosion of popularity could be because the minimally-invasive laparoscopic techniques are more widely available, as opposed to a procedure in which the patient undergoes a major incision.

The study found that although most patients currently seeking bariatric surgery are requesting the minimally-invasive approach, not all patients qualify for the laparoscopic technique. Also, not all surgeons are comfortable with performing laparoscopic bariatric surgery.

But the number of hospitals performing bariatric surgery, as well as the numbers of qualified surgeons, is increasing.

Right now, people can only qualify for bariatric surgery if they meet certain criteria for obesity and related health conditions. But for people with excess weight that threatens their health, it's a proven treatment.

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