What You Should Know Before Deciding to Have Bariatric Surgery

by Dr. Mark Takata, Bariatric Surgeon

The risks, benefits and costs to consider

Surgery is always serious, so before moving forward with a bariatric procedure, it’s important to understand the costs, potential side effects and other issues that may affect your decision.

What are the complications and side effects?

For people who are obese, bariatric surgery can be a lifesaver. Losing the extra weight can reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke, diabetes and cancer. However, there are also a variety of serious side effects that may accompany the procedure.

Regardless of the type of procedure, all surgeries have inherent risks. Complications may include blood clots in the legs or lungs, as well as infections. It’s worth noting that minimally invasive laparoscopic procedures are less likely to lead to infection than open surgery.

There are also potential complications that are unique to bariatric surgery. Because weight loss surgery reduces the stomach’s size by two-thirds, the body may have trouble absorbing vitamins and minerals. These deficiencies can cause diarrhea, kidney stones, anemia and even neurological issues. However, poor nutrient absorption is not an uncommon side effect, so your medical team will be tracking your nutrition closely.

Over the long haul, as the weight drops off, you may experience other side effects, such as fatigue, body aches, hair loss and shifting moods.

Is bariatric surgery reversible?

This is an important question to ask, at least in part, because of the complications mentioned above. Sometimes people are not comfortable with the results of bariatric surgery. Can it be reversed? That depends.

Gastric band procedures can be reversed because no part of the stomach or intestines is being removed. Instead, a band is placed around the stomach to restrict its size.

However, gastric sleeve and gastric bypass procedures are not reversible. They are actually removing parts of the stomach and intestines, altering the anatomy significantly.

Are these procedures covered by insurance?

Weight loss surgery costs upwards of $20,000 to $30,000, depending on the region and the type of procedure, so insurance coverage is a big issue. However, there is no short answer to this question. Coverage varies with insurance companies, the specifics of the policy and the health issues caused by obesity. Medicare will pay for weight loss surgery. It’s a good idea to contact your insurance company before setting up the actual surgery.

Naturally, there are many more potential questions than can be dealt with effectively in one article. Write down your concerns before going in for an appointment. That way you can get all the information you need and feel good about your decisions on weight loss surgery.

This health and wellness tip was provided by Mark Takata, MD, a bariatric surgeon at at Scripps Clinic Center for Weight Management.