Weight loss surgery, also called bariatric surgery, changes more than just the contours of the body. It gives people hope.
“Patients can play with their kids or grandkids,” says Ramsey Dallal, MD, one of Einstein’s most experienced bariatric surgeons. “They can function without pain and not feel ostracized. I hear about people crying at the mall because they can finally shop for regular clothes. There is not one aspect of their lives that is not altered dramatically by this surgery.”
What is Obesity?
More than 36 percent of U.S. adults are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That means a body mass index (BMI)—a ratio of weight to height—of 30 or higher. Obesity contributes to many health conditions, including diabetes, heart disease, stroke and certain cancers. Obesity can also put stress on joints.
In addition to its health effects, obesity has an impact on quality of life. People who are obese have body pain and difficulty functioning physically. They are at increased risk for some emotional conditions, such as depression and anxiety. And they face stigma and discrimination from people who think obesity is an issue of weak willpower.
Treating Obesity at Einstein
While many people with obesity turn to diet, exercises, medications and other means to lose weight, most are unsuccessful. That’s where bariatric surgery comes in, succeeding where other approaches so often fail.
“We change the anatomy of the stomach so that the signals for hunger are blocked and people feel satisfied with much less food,” says Dr. Dallal.
The American Heart Association says weight loss surgery can help bring health benefits to adults with a BMI of 40 or higher. People with a BMI of 35 or higher who have risk factors like diabetes or high blood pressure are also candidates for surgery. (Recent research suggests bariatric surgery can help control or cure diabetes.)
Dr. Dallal has performed thousands of weight loss surgeries. The form of surgery he performs at Einstein Health Network is called minimally invasive or laparoscopic surgery. Instead of making one long incision, surgeons make five small ones, which allows them to use small, thin instruments. Smaller incisions mean a lower chance of infection.
There are other advantages to laparoscopic surgery. It doesn’t take long—it’s often complete in about an hour. Patients are under anesthesia for a shorter time, and surgery with small incisions also means less pain. People are usually sore for a few hours after surgery, and need a prescription painkiller the next day, but many people won’t need medications when they go home. Recovery time is faster, too. Most patients are up and walking the day they have surgery and they can return to work within a week.
Einstein offers two options for surgery: gastric sleeve and gastric bypass.
With the gastric sleeve option, surgeons reshape the stomach into a small tube. About 75 percent of the stomach is removed. This limits the amount of food that can be eaten at one time.
With gastric bypass, the stomach is re-formed into a smaller pouch. This limits the amount of food that can be eaten at one time and therefore the calories absorbed by the body.
Dr. Dallal and his team have performed about 5,000 weight loss surgeries since 2005. He estimates that in 2017, they’ll reach the milestone of 500,000 pounds lost from all patients.
On an individual basis, the changes patients see after surgery are dramatic.
“These people had no hope, saw death in front of them, and felt uncomfortable in every step of their day,” says Dr. Dallal. “They have been told it’s their fault and they are weak willed.”
He says the biggest impediment people face in considering surgery is fear of it failing; the way diets and exercise have failed them. That’s far from the case.
“The success rate for these operations is 90-plus percent,” says Dr. Dallal, “while the success rate for diet and exercise in our population is one percent to two percent.”
Weight loss surgery is proven to lengthen life expectancy. It improves quality of life to that of an average weight person. And it’s safe. The mortality rate for weight loss surgery is less than that of gallbladder surgery.Dr. Dallal says there is no pill or treatment that can do what weight loss surgery can do for patients. “This changes lives for the positive forever.”