If you’re considerably overweight (with a body mass (BMI) index of 35 or over) and have been unsuccessful in losing weight through traditional methods such as diet and exercise, you may consider weight loss surgery.

This highly successful range of procedures work by limiting the amount of food you’re able to eat and/or restricting the ability of your body to absorb your food. Patients can lose up to 80% of their excess weight over the course of one or two years, however this is not without cost. In addition to the risks associated with surgery, there are risks of complications, and after undergoing obesity surgery you will probably have to take vitamin and mineral supplements for the rest of your life.

This article is written by Jackie Griffiths, a freelance journalist who writes health, medical, biological, and pharmaceutical articles for national and international journals, newsletters and web sites.

The four types

Gastric Band, weight loss surgery

Gastric band surgery involves reducing the size of the stomach using an inflatable band. This separates the stomach into two parts, so you feel full after eating far less food. This procedure is performed using keyhole surgery via four or five small incisions in the abdominal wall.

For this type of obesity surgery, you will need around two days in hospital, and two weeks to recover from the operation afterwards. A gastric band will usually produce a loss of around 50% of your excess weight over two years.

Gastric Bypass, weight loss surgery

This type of weight loss surgery is similar to gastric banding in the way that it divides the stomach. However, instead of the food moving normally to the rest of the stomach for digestion, it passes directly into a section of small intestine that’s been grafted on to the end of the first stomach section. This procedure involves more complex surgery and is often done via a large single incision in the abdomen. As a result, you may need up to six days in hospital, and up to six weeks to recover from the operation. Gastric Bypass patients will lose around a stone a month and 70% of their excess weight over two years.

Sleeve Gastrectomy, weight loss surgery

In this procedure, around three quarters of the stomach is removed, leaving the stomach as a narrow curved tube. This decreases the amount you are able to eat. Although this sounds dramatic, it is relatively easy to perform as keyhole surgery. You will only need a day or two in hospital and two weeks or less to recover. Patients can expect to lose between 30% and 50% of their excess weight, although the stomach will recover in size over a period of around 18 months.

Duodenal Switch, weight loss surgery

Duodenal switch weight loss surgery is often performed to supplement sleeve gastrectomy as it inhibits the uptake of nutrients, especially fats, from food. This complex procedure involves the splitting of the intestinal tract so that food bypasses the bile duct and pancreas, so isn’t broken down in the same way. The operation alone can take up to seven hours, and consequently has a much longer recovery time, both in hospital and at home. However, it is the most effective of all weight loss surgery, with up to 80% of excess weight shed within two years.

Is it safe?

As with all operations, obesity surgery does entail a risk of complications, such as internal bleeding, blood clots, and wound infections. In addition, all intestinal surgery runs the risk of creating a blockage or adhesions. What’s more, most weight loss surgery is irreversible and so you will have to live with the side effects for the rest of your life. These can include a need for vitamin and mineral supplements and radical changes in your eating habits.

If the surgery is successful, you may also have to deal with excess skin due to rapid weight loss, and this can mean further surgery and further risk.

Duodenal Switch surgery carries further unpleasant side effects as a result of the changes in fat absorption in the body. These can include unpleasant wind and severe diarrhoea.

Not the easy way out

Weight loss surgery should not be viewed as an easy answer to losing weight. Because of the risks associated with the procedures it should be seen as a last resort, and only considered once you’ve exhausted all possible alternatives. Your GP, hospital specialist, or private medical practitioner will discuss the possibility of surgery with you in detail, to ensure you understand the implications and the risks involved before they agree to the procedure.

In some cases however, where severe obesity is having an adverse effect on health and can itself become life threatening, obesity surgery is often the lesser of two evils.

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