If you have gastric band surgery, a restrictive, inflatable band is placed around the top of your stomach to limit the amount of food you can eat. Even a very small meal makes you feel full, so you eat only a fraction of what you might have been used to.

Some people may regard it as an easy option compared to constantly watching your diet and increasing the level of exercise that you do, but both these lifestyle changes are still important if you have the surgery. You also need to take into account the risks involved; having major abdominal surgery is certainly not an easy option and should be seen as a last resort, rather than a quick fix.

The popularity of gastric band surgery

The operation is becoming more popular in western society, where the rates of obesity are reaching epidemic proportions. Obesity is associated with many chronic health problems and for some people, the risk of the operation may outweigh the risk of remaining overweight. Gastric band surgery is certainly an effective method of weight loss. Most people lose around 60% of their excess weight in the two years after gastric band surgery.

What does this surgery involve?

Having gastric band surgery requires a short stay in hospital as it must be done under general anaesthetic. The surgeon makes four or five small incisions in the abdomen and introduces a band that is fixed in place around the top of the stomach. This slows down movement of food into the rest of the stomach. Everything that you eat after gastric band surgery remains in the top pouch, creating a feeling of fullness until the food passes very slowly into the bottom part of the stomach and then into the intestines for digestion.

Although this is a type of keyhole surgery, any abdominal surgery, particularly on someone who is overweight carries risks. Around 2,000 people each year die as a result of gastric band surgery – some due to complications immediately after the surgery, the others as a result of infections or problems that arise afterwards. If you are considering gastric band surgery, the risks of the operation will be discussed with you in detail and you should be very sure that you want to go ahead before signing the consent form.

What to expect after the surgery

The day after gastric band surgery, your abdomen will feel sore and you might feel sick from the anaesthetic. This wears off quickly and you should start by taking just sips of liquid to begin with, until you feel you can get up and about easily. You will be allowed home once any wound drains and your catheter have been removed. You should arrange for someone to be with you for about 48 hours afterwards and take things easy for a couple of weeks. Most people find they recover completely in 2-3 weeks and can drive again safely after that time.

Can you have it on the NHS?

The National Health Service does offer gastric band surgery as a treatment for obesity but it is usually restricted to people who have a clear clinical need to lose weight. Generally, people with a body mass index of over 40 and who have underlying health problems such as heart disease, severe sleep apnoea (in which they stop breathing during sleep) or diabetes are considered, but only if they have tried other treatments beforehand. Patients are eligible for gastric band surgery only if they are fit and healthy enough to cope with the risks of the surgery and only if they agree to follow a tough regime afterwards, provided by a specialised obesity clinic.

Surgery in the private sector

The number of requests for gastric band surgery rose by 41% between 2007 and 2008, fuelled by greater awareness that the operation is possible. This has partly come from high profile celebrities such as Fern Britton and Anne Diamond, who have both had gastric band surgery. Many people who want weight loss surgery do not meet NHS criteria and opt to have the operation done privately. This can cost between £7,000 and £8,000 in the UK.

Some people have decided to have gastric band surgery done in other parts of the EU at about half that cost. This often works well but there have been reports of gastric bands not being fitted correctly, and the medical team providing no follow up, gastric band adjustments or aftercare.

Losing weight after the surgery

Adjusting to the gastric band takes a little time. Some people find they still eat too much and become very uncomfortable and experience nausea and vomiting. People who have had gastric band surgery need to make sure they lose weight but don’t miss out on nutrition. It is no use just eating smaller amounts of junk food. The smaller amounts of food that you eat following gastric band surgery must be packed with the vitamins, minerals, protein and other essential nutrients you need to stay healthy.

The inflation level of the gastric band can be changed to achieve the best results and this may need to be done two or three times after the actual gastric band surgery. Most people find that the weight loss is rapid and sustained after surgery with even the very obese losing a large proportion of their excess body weight within the year that follows.

Surgery and pregnancy

Women who have had successful gastric band surgery and attained a healthy weight but who then decide to become pregnant are likely to need to have the gastric band adjusted during pregnancy and breastfeeding. They need extra nutrients and the gastric band, which is inflatable, can be deflated to let more food through during this time. Once breastfeeding is established, the band can be re-inflated to encourage weight loss if required.

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