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Study: Health Benefits of Weight-Loss Surgery Last Years

  • Carol Pearson

Just 10 years ago, weight-loss surgery was new, and little was known about the long-term health effects of surgically shortening a patient's digestive tract. A recent study examined whether people can sustain their post-operative weight loss and if their risks for heart attack and diabetes remain low six years after their surgery.

Jody Stubler said she saw great benefits from the weight-loss surgery.

“Losing this weight has helped me gain tremendous confidence in myself and my own abilities,” she said.

Stubler is 54 kilograms lighter, no Type 2 diabetes, and her blood pressure and cholesterol levels are normal.

There are different types of gastric bypass surgery, sometimes called stomach-stapling.

Dr. Ted Adams, from the University of Utah School of Medicine, led a study of more than 1,000 severely obese patients. One group of patients opted for Roux-en-Y, the most common type of gastric bypass surgery. The rest did not.

During this procedure, the surgeon cuts across the top of the stomach to create a small pouch about the size of a walnut. Food bypasses most of the stomach and enters directly into the middle part of the small intestine.

With a smaller stomach, patients eat less, and so they lose weight. But no one knew if that weight loss and other health benefits could be sustained.

“Almost 80 percent all of those patients who had gastric bypass surgery at six years had been able to maintain a very significant degree of weight loss,” said Adams.

Those who had the surgery also reduced their risks of heart attack and stroke.

“Every cardiovascular risk factor that we studied had improved significantly or remained improved in the patients who had the gastric bypass surgery, when compared to those who did not,” said Adams.

The study showed high blood pressure, cholesterol levels and Type 2 diabetes were lower in those who had the surgery, compared to those who did not. In fact, studies show that Rou-en-Y surgery can actually reverse Type 2 diabetes.

But those benefits do have a cost. Gastric bypass surgery demands that the patient commit to a permanent, drastic change in eating habits and exercise regimens - changes Stubler knows are difficult to maintain.

“It’s a very challenging and sometimes difficult road. Mentally, physically and emotionally, everything changes,” said Stubler.

There still are a lot of unanswered questions about gastric bypass surgery. Dr. Adams plans to look at the results again, this time 10 years after surgery. The study was published in The Journal of the American Medical Association.

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