Weight Loss Surgery a Risky Business

August 31, 2008 11:00 AM
by Emily Coakley
A recent article explores complications associated with some types of weight loss surgery. What can patients do to protect themselves?

‘It isn’t the optimal cure’

An article in Self magazine and posted on MSNBC describes complications several women experienced after gastric bypass surgery. The problems included chronic diarrhea, ulcers, gallstones and bowel obstructions, and led some of those interviewed to have the procedure reversed.

One of those women interviewed, Eileen Wells, told Self: “I thought I was doing something to change my life for the better. But it made me feel a hundred times worse.”

Lesley, administrator of the site Fatshionista, doesn’t like the idea of weight loss surgery, but understands that some people choose to do it when other ways of losing weight haven’t worked. She was surprised the article was so critical of gastric bypass procedures.

“Overall, the entire article is pretty impressive, considering it’s coming from Self magazine, which, unless it’s recently changed, is hardly a great bastion of size acceptance,” Lesley wrote. “I would not have expected such a critical assessment from that source, but I’m glad to be wrong, and I wholeheartedly recommend anyone who’s even thought about WLS give it a read.”

For those considering the surgery, a few hospitals offer advice for avoiding complications.

The Cleveland Clinic recommends bile salt supplements to avoid gallstones, and maintaining vitamin and mineral “intakes” to prevent deficiencies.

To prevent blood clots in the legs after surgery, a possible complication, Mayo Clinic recommends walking, wearing leg wraps and stopping smoking.

“Dumping,” another complication described in the Self article, is “frequently experienced after eating sweets or high-fat foods,” according to Mayo Clinic.

An experienced doctor may also help. The Cleveland Clinic Web site says doctors who have performed more surgeries report fewer complications.

One complication that can’t be prevented is excess skin, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. “The amount of excess skin depends on the total weight loss, age, and how much the skin was stretched. Unfortunately it cannot usually be prevented—the majority of people who have gotten heavy enough to merit gastric bypass surgery have stretched their skin beyond a point from which it can “snap back.”

Opinion & Analysis: A bumpy road

On the blog Pink Warm and Dry, Epijunky, a 32-year-old paramedic, wrote about her experience with gastric bypass surgery and the effects five years later. Before her insurance company would approve it, she had to have a sleep study, offer documentation of previous attempts to lose weight and have a meeting with a psychiatrist that included a 600-question assessment.

She lost more than 100 pounds in six months, is anemic and lactose intolerant, but said she’s been luckier than most.

“It’s been a long road with a few bumps, but one that I wouldn’t trade for the world. It has not been easy. There’s NOTHING about this that has been easy. I’m almost five years postop and I have some issues that I don’t know will EVER be resolved,” she wrote.

Reference: Obesity Web Guide


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