10 Myths of Bariatric Surgery

Siva Vithiananthan, MD

Obesity is often thought to be just a weight-related condition. More studies, however, have found that it affects many other organs in the body and can be a threat to overall health and wellness.

Weight loss surgery, also called bariatric surgery, is a popular treatment method for obesity. There are several myths and misconceptions about the surgery and its outcomes. Here, we will debunk some of the most common myths about bariatric surgery.

Myth #1: Bariatric surgery is extremely dangerous.

While it is true that every surgery carries some risks, recent advances in techniques used in surgery have reduced these risks greatly. Studies have shown that the risk for bariatric surgery is about the same as a routine gall bladder surgery.

Myth #2: It’s all about diet and exercise. Surgery is unnecessary.

Diet and exercise are certainly important, but they may not be enough for many patients who are extremely obese. Studies have shown that changes to diet and exercise can result in weight loss, but more than half of those people will gain their weight back.

Myth #3: Most people will gain the weight back.

Following bariatric surgery, patients can lose anywhere from 50 to 100 pounds in the first year. Long-term studies have shown that 10 years after the procedure, more patients have kept the weight off when compared to patients who have lost weight without surgery. This shows long-term weight loss can be achieved through bariatric surgery.

Myth #4: Surgery can affect how the body absorbs vitamins and minerals.

There are different forms of bariatric surgery for weight loss. Some of those can change the way the body absorbs vitamins and minerals, and deficiencies can happen. This side effect is preventable by using supplements after surgery. Follow-up care for patients after surgery should include regular testing of their vitamin and mineral levels, so any deficiencies can be addressed.

Myth #5: You can’t have children after weight loss surgery.

Patients who have weight loss surgery are advised to not become pregnant in the first two years after surgery. One of the reasons is that these procedures are intended to induce weight loss, the opposite of what is needed during pregnancy. Most patients reach a plateau of weight loss around two years after the surgery. It’s also important to note that weight loss actually leads to higher fertility rates and higher testosterone levels in men.

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Myth #6: Insurance won’t cover weight loss surgery.

There are several insurance companies that do cover these procedures. Insurance coverage varies from state to state and company to company. Typically, a patient would need to meet certain requirements for insurance to cover the surgery. The best way to know whether one meets all the requirements is to go to a bariatric clinic where all the necessary information is provided.

Myth #7: Bariatric surgery leads to alcoholism.

A number of studies have shown that there is no clear link between bariatric surgery and alcohol use. Patients are advised to cut down on alcohol following their surgery as the effects of alcohol can be greater following surgery.

Myth #8: Bariatric surgery increases suicide.

There are many changes that can develop as a result of weight loss after surgery. Those changes can be psychological or emotional, or may even change someone’s personality. Some studies have shown an increase in suicide rates after weight loss procedures, but those patients tend to have undiagnosed psychological conditions prior to the surgery. That is why screening for mental health issues prior to surgery is so important.

Myth #9: Bariatric surgery leaves a big scar.

In the past, “traditional” surgery would leave scars. However, as our technologies and techniques have improved, most weight loss surgeries are now performed through “pin hole surgery,” also known as laparoscopic surgery. Laparoscopic surgeries leave much less scarring than open surgery, and in addition, they have a quicker recovery time, less pain and less blood loss.

Myth #10: Bariatric surgery is an easy way out.

While it is true that people can lose a lot of weight through bariatric surgery, there is a small group of people who may regain the weight. Usually that is because of unhealthy lifestyle choices – not exercising enough or not eating the right foods. The fact is, surgery is an important tool that can help people lose weight, but making healthy choices is necessary to keep that weight off.

Learn more about the Center for Bariatric Surgery at Lifespan.

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