benefits and risks of bariatric surgery

Benefits & Risks of Bariatric Surgery: Is It For You?

May 26, 2017

Although bariatric surgery is becoming more common, there are still a lot of opportunities to address the realities of this type of surgery, along with why someone would consider it as a long-term wellness solution. It is important for you to know both the benefits and risks of bariatric surgery so you can know if it is right for you.

To determine whether bariatric surgery is right for you, it’s important to first learn about the various surgical options that are available from a health care professional. You’ll also want to get a better understanding of the short and long-term lifestyle changes that go along with bariatric surgery, along with how your personal commitment to the process will have a direct impact on the results.

Why Consider Bariatric Surgery?

Undeniably, diet and exercise play a fundamental role in weight loss. However, for many individuals, diet and exercise alone are not an effective means to sustained, long-term weight loss.

Last year, more than 113,000 bariatric surgeries took place in the United States. With many weight loss surgery options available, it is proven to be the most effective and longest-lasting treatment for morbid obesity. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), bariatric surgery is the only proven weight-loss method for those suffering from morbid obesity, which is defined as a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 40 or more.

Understanding whether bariatric surgery is right for you means evaluating the anticipated benefits against the potential risks.

What Are The Benefits of Bariatric Surgery?

While the most obvious benefit of bariatric surgery is a reduction in weight and an improved BMI, surgically-assisted weight loss means many obesity-related health conditions can improve and even be eliminated as a result. A few examples of the health benefits that bariatric patients can expect to achieve after undergoing weight loss surgery include:

  • Lower blood pressure
  • Lower cholesterol levels
  • Improved cardiovascular health
  • Improved blood glucose (blood sugar) levels, potentially preventing type 2 diabetes
  • Lessened or eliminated asthma attacks
  • Improved sleep, and a lessened potential for sleep apnea and snoring
  • Relief from Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) and heartburn
  • Improved bladder control
  • Comfort and relief from lower back pain, inflammation, and degenerative diseases
  • Improved metabolic health
  • For women, lessened menstrual dysfunction and improved fertility health
  • Relief from migraine headaches and depression

In addition to the physical benefits, those who undergo surgery report improved psychosocial wellness, too. It has been noted that depression, self-esteem issues, and confidence levels improve drastically for many bariatric patients.

Together with the reduction, and even elimination of comorbid diseases and improvement of psychosocial wellness, bariatric patients can also expect to see an increase in life expectancy and an increased quality of life.

What Are The Risks of Bariatric Surgery?

As is the case with all types of surgeries, weight loss surgery involves risks.

Bariatric surgery complications – such as wound infections, abdominal bleeding, staple/suture leakage, respiratory failure, pulmonary problems or other surgery-related issues – are real, but occur in less than five percent of the procedures performed.

In addition to surgery-related issues, it is important to note that each type of bariatric surgery – whether it’s restrictive (e.g., vertical sleeve gastrectomy or laparoscopic gastric banding) or malabsorptive (e.g., duodenal switch or Roux-en-Y gastric bypass) – comes with potential complications, which could include prolapse and erosions for band candidates or ulcers and nutritional deficiencies for malabsorptive procedures. While these complications can be serious, many are preventable or can be mitigated through diet and supplementation. A bariatric healthcare professional can walk you through the nuances of every type of surgical option, and describe at length the benefits and risks associated with each.

A knowledgeable, board-certified bariatric physician can help shed more light on potential short and long-term effects, including statistical outcomes. In addition to outlining specific surgical risks, they can also provide vital insights into the risks and complications that could arise from maintaining the status quo of living with life-threatening, comorbid diseases.

Not a Quick-Fix Solution

While it may come with numerous health benefits, deciding to undergo bariatric surgery is not a decision that should be made lightly. Unfortunately, the myths and stigmas of weight loss surgery overshadow the life-changing benefits, including an improved quality of life and a potential reduction in the risk factors associated with developing diabetes and certain cancers.

Weight loss surgery is not an easy way out, nor is it a one-size-fits-all proposition. Choosing to undergo surgery is a life-changing decision that will require a lifelong commitment to healthy eating and exercise.

Self-Assessment for Bariatric Surgery

Following are some questions to ask yourself if you are considering bariatric surgery:

Are you at least 80 pounds overweight?

Bariatric surgery is not for someone looking to lose a few pounds. It is for individuals who have had a lifelong struggle with obesity, for whom diet and exercise alone cannot generate effective weight loss.

Do you have any of the following conditions: diabetes, hypertension, GERD (heartburn or reflux), arthritis in weight-bearing joints (knees, ankles, hips, back), high cholesterol, sleep apnea or infertility?

These are all obesity-related health issues. Bariatric surgery can significantly reduce, if not completely eliminate, many comorbid diseases and conditions.

Does your weight stop you from doing activities you enjoy?

For many, morbid obesity means sitting on the sidelines. Surgical weight loss options help individuals get back to leading active, healthy lives.

Can you comply with long-term lifestyle and dietary changes?

Surgery is not the easy way out. It comes with a lifelong commitment to healthy eating and exercise. These two critical components are vital for long-term weight loss and maintenance.

Are you interested in learning more about surgical weight loss?

Don’t stop here! If you believe bariatric surgery may be the right solution for you, continue your research by visiting a board-certified bariatric practice. Many offer valuable opportunities to participate in educational seminars or workshops where you can interact with not only bariatric healthcare practitioners but also patients who can provide a practical perspective on life as a bariatric patient.



Dr. Robert Schuster is a board-certified bariatric surgeon practicing at Bridges Center for Surgical Weight Management at St. Luke’s Medical Center in Phoenix, and Mountain Vista Medical Center in Mesa, Arizona. Bridges Center for Surgical Weight Management provides a comprehensive program to help individuals achieve healthy, long-term weight loss.

Read more articles from Dr. Robert Schuster!