Peter Lundberg MD
Am I Ready for Weight Loss Surgery?
Millions of Americans fight a daily battle with obesity and the conditions that come with it -- hypertension, diabetes, sleep apnea, high cholesterol and dozens more. There are countless combinations of medications, diets, and exercise plans that likewise struggle and often fail to keep weight off in the long-term, frustrating patients and doctors alike. Bariatric surgery, also known as weight loss surgery, is gaining popularity as the most effective and durable way for people to lose weight, but it is pursued by less than 1% of Americans who qualify. Part of the reason why is variable insurance coverage for the procedures from state-to-state. But the main reasons are that patients either don't know they can benefit, don't know they qualify, or simply aren't ready to take the life-changing leap that bariatric surgery demands; and these are the reasons I am writing this post!
Am I ready for bariatric surgery?
Every person deserves to feel confident and healthy, no matter their weight. And while obesity is clearly associated with serious health risks, it is not the only determinant of health. Many individuals feel pressured to pursue bariatric surgery by others' success stories, unrealistic body image ideals, or even their physician. What I find, however, is that the patients who have the greatest success are those who pursue surgery for themselves. They want to travel, dance, and play with their kids and grandkids without feeling self conscious or left behind -- things that every person regardless of their weight wants to do. The best patients have tried diets and medications galore, followed every instruction and recommendation, and yet the weight keeps coming back. These are the patients who are the most motivated and ready to change the way the eat and live.
Do I qualify for bariatric surgery?
Most insurance plans that cover bariatric surgery require strict criteria based on a patient's body mass index (BMI), which is calculated from a patient's height and weight (you can calculate yours here). Patients with a BMI greater than 35 with other associated illnesses, or with a BMI greater than 40 without other illnesses qualify for the procedure. These levels are well below what patients often consider obese, and many are unaware that they qualify. For example, a 5-foot-4-inch woman who weighs 240 pounds has a BMI of 41. This person qualifies for bariatric surgery regardless of other illnesses but is dramatically smaller than bariatric surgery patients featured on television, who frequently have BMI's over 60.
What are the benefits of bariatric surgery?
Depending on the type of surgery performed, patients lose 50-70% of their excess weight in the first year after surgery. For example, that same 5-foot-4-inch, 240-pound patient would weigh, on average, 150-180 pounds after one year. The rate of improvement or cure of associated diseases usually exceeds the amount of weight lost. Over 90% of patient report an improved quality of life in that same time. And while some weight regain is normal, the majority of the weight stays off.
Decades of research have made bariatric surgery as safe as a knee replacement, and there is an ever-increasing number of research and fellowship programs dedicated to this surgical specialty. I believe that patient awareness and physician expertise will continue to improve in unison as we work together to make America healthier and happier.