A Radical Obesity Fix
Serious Side Effects
As with any major operation, bariatric surgery is far from
foolproof. The death rate nears 1%, meaning up to 400 people may die from the
procedure this year alone. As many as 20% of patients need additional surgery
to mend complications, such as abdominal hernias. Due to malabsorption in the
shortened digestive tract, roughly 30% of patients develop nutritional
deficiencies, such as anemia and osteoporosis, according to the National
Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
Then there are the lifestyle changes. People who once ate
freely and copiously must become hyperattentive to their diets. The new stomach
requires several tiny, nutrient-rich meals a day supplemented with additional
vitamins and minerals. Eating too much or indulging in rich, sugary, or fried
foods can overload the sensitive pouch and cause dumping -- a term used to
describe the sweats, chills, and nausea that result from food filling the pouch
and overflowing straight into the small intestine.
Bailey knows the dangers of the surgery firsthand. Two days
after her bariatric procedure, she was rushed back to the operating room with
life-threatening complications. What began as relatively routine surgery with a
three-day hospital stay suddenly became a fight for her life and, ultimately,
an agonizing three-month stint in the intensive care unit. But Bailey doesn't
have any regrets. "I would do it again in a heartbeat. Life is wonderful
today. I feel like Cinderella," she tells WebMD.
It's the small things that mean the most to her now, like
relaxing into a movie seat, scooting past people in a crowded room with grace,
and enjoying flirtatious looks from men. "For the first time in my life,
men take a second look at me," Bailey says. "At first I thought my
husband might be jealous, but instead he just beams. I've turned into a
Bailey's success story is a common one. In 75% of cases,
bariatric surgery succeeds where other methods fail. Dramatic weight loss
begins immediately after the procedure and levels off in 18 to 24 months. The
average patient loses between 50% and 75% of his/her excess weight and keeps it
off -- a feat no diet or drug has yet to match.
It's clear that nonoperative treatment doesn't work for the
severely obese, Brolin says. "In this group, the failure rate of dieting
Other weight-loss experts concur. Compare bariatric surgery to
dieting and it's no contest, says John Foreyt, a psychologist at Baylor College
of Medicine in Houston, who works extensively with bariatric surgery patients.
The average dieter loses 10% of his body weight. For someone who is severely
obese, that can be a mere 30 or 35 pounds, says Foreyt.
Using behavior modification, such as diet and exercise, the
most weight a person can hope to shed is one to two pounds per week, says
Randall Flanery, a psychologist at the St. Louis Behavioral Medicine Institute
in St. Louis. At that rate, a person who needs to drop 150 to 200 pounds may
die of an obesity-related illness before getting the weight off, he says.