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Losing weight is neither easy nor something that can be accomplished quickly. For many people, maintaining a healthy weight is a lifelong struggle. Often, people begin with a diet and exercise program to shed pounds. Despite their efforts, many cannot reach their goal — which makes bariatric surgery another option.

“If a person is obese, they may want to consider bariatric surgery,” says Luciano DiMarco, DO, bariatric and general surgeon, UPMC Central Pennsylvania Surgical Associates and UPMC Harrisburg Weight Management Center. “This is particularly important if someone also has health problems like diabetes, high blood pressure, and sleep apnea. Their life could depend on losing weight.”

Still, it’s not an easy decision, and patients have a lot to consider. Read on for more information about bariatric surgery to help you decide if it is the right choice for you.

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Bariatric Surgery Criteria

Bariatric surgery candidates must meet certain criteria. That ensures they are healthy enough for surgery and can maintain a healthy routine after the procedure. Candidates must:

  • Be at least 18 years of age.
  • Have a history of failed weight-loss attempts through a medically recommended plan.
  • Have a body mass index (BMI) greater than 40, OR a BMI of 35 or higher and a medical condition such as high blood pressure, diabetes, or sleep apnea.
Dr. Dimarco

Patients who decide to have bariatric surgery must undergo a comprehensive evaluation. This includes health and psychological screenings.

“We want our patients to be physically and emotionally prepared for the procedure and the lifestyle changes that accompany it,” Dr. DiMarco says.

Bariatric Surgery and Weight Loss:  Pros and Cons

The biggest benefit of bariatric surgery is rapid weight loss. But weight loss brings more than physical benefits. Studies show bariatric patients see improvements in self-esteem, work, social interactions, and sexual function. They also have reduced disability, depression, and anxiety.

Bariatric surgery can lead to significant improvements in obesity-related conditions, such as heart disease, hypertension, stroke, sleep apnea, arthritis, asthma, and acid reflux. It can drastically reduce — or even eliminate — type 2 diabetes.

“Obesity is a comorbidity,” Dr. DiMarco says. “Most obese people are in poor health and have one or more life-threatening diseases. Remarkably, studies have found that those who have had weight loss surgery have a significantly lower risk of death. That’s an exceptional benefit to patients.”

Like any surgery, however, bariatric surgery has risks. Complications can include:

  • Pneumonia
  • Blood clots
  • Infection
  • Bleeding
  • Ulcers
  • Hernias
  • Gallstones

Patients may experience long-term problems like nausea, vomiting, low blood sugar, or malnutrition. Losing a lot of weight also can lead to excess skin, which may require another surgery.

But Dr. DiMarco says the risks associated with weight-loss surgery are significantly less than remaining morbidly obese. This is not an easy decision, nor one you should make lightly. Any surgery is serious. And the results of bariatric surgery will lead to a dramatic change in your life and your lifestyle.

“Your thoughts and feelings are important, and our team will listen,” Dr. DiMarco says. “We are there to answer your questions and to support your decision.”

Bariatric Surgery Options

If you decide to have bariatric surgery, you have minimally invasive options that offer faster healing and better results. At UPMC, these include:

Gastric sleeve surgery: The surgeon removes approximately 85% of the stomach, then reshapes the remaining portion into a tube or sleeve. The result is a much smaller stomach, which leaves you feeling less hungry and limits the amount of food you can eat. You may need to eat a specialized diet and take vitamin supplements following the procedure.

Gastric bypass surgery: The surgeon creates a small pouch from a section of the stomach that attaches to the small intestine. This allows food to bypass the stomach and the start of the intestinal tract. The new stomach holds less food and keeps it for a shorter period. You will need to commit to a lifelong maintenance plan focusing on easily processed foods.

Bariatric Surgery Recovery and Follow-Up Care

The average hospital stay for most people is one or two days. Most patients go back to work within two weeks, but your surgeon will determine the actual length of time. Some restrictions may apply.

Following surgery, patients must begin the start of a lifelong commitment to maintaining a healthy weight.

“Sustained weight loss is challenging, which is why UPMC offers a wide range of tools, information, and support to help patients achieve and maintain a healthy weight for a lifetime,” Dr. DiMarco says.

Resources include:

  • Education about nutrition and health so you can develop lifelong habits needed to sustain weight loss.
  • Medical food for healthy meal replacement.
  • Exercise instruction and support to safely guide you toward a more active life.
  • Interactive tools to help you calculate your BMI, understand how to order healthy restaurant meals, and find other information.
  • Support groups to help you on your weight-loss journey.

For more information about bariatric surgery at UPMC, visit our website.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .

About UPMC Bariatric Services

UPMC Bariatric Services is here to help if you’re struggling with obesity and want to lose weight. We offer both surgical and nonsurgical weight loss plans and can help you find the right path for a weight-loss journey. We will work with you to discuss your needs and develop and individualized treatment plan. We meet the highest level of national accreditation for bariatric surgery centers, and our team provides complete care. We offer our services at UPMC locations throughout Pennsylvania and New York. Visit our website to find a provider near you.

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