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Counseling Patients on Bariatric Surgery for Obesity

Editor: Anis Rehman Updated: 9/18/2022 8:28:07 PM


The number of people with obesity is increasing rapidly on a global scale, and obesity is one of the top causes of preventable death worldwide.[1] Obesity is associated with the development of cardiovascular disease (CVD), type 2 diabetes (T2DM), dyslipidemia (HLP), obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA), and some cancers, amongst a host of other conditions.

Body mass index (BMI) has historically been used to categorize obesity. However, this should be used cautiously in patients with high or low muscle mass. BMI is calculated using the formula weight in kilograms divided by height in meters squared. It is recommended that BMI is used alongside waist circumference and the presence of comorbidities (CVD, hypertension) to risk-stratify patients. Weight management can be an area that is difficult to navigate without offending. However, it is essential to highlight that the use of the term "obese" refers to a clinical diagnosis that has specific health implications and is not an observation of the appearance of the individual.

It is essential to recognize that the development of obesity is often multifactorial, and a thorough history is indicated to explore any modifiable contributory factors such as lifestyle, medication, comorbidities, and psychological health. Meta-analyses have shown that dieting does not lead to sustained weight loss or improved health benefits.[2] However, bariatric surgery remains an effective clinical intervention for people with obesity compared with nonsurgical treatments, including medical treatments such as orlistat.[3] Bariatric surgery is the most effective intervention for patients with a BMI greater than 40.[4]


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Patients who should be considered for bariatric surgery include:

  • Those with a BMI of 30 to 34.9 with metabolic syndrome or uncontrolled diabetes mellitus
  • Those with a BMI of 35 to 39.9 kg/m with one or more significant comorbidities, including CVD, HTN, OSA, HLP
  • Those with a BMI greater than or equal to 40 kg/m

All patients must undertake a weight reduction program to be eligible for surgery. These multifactorial programs should include interventions to reduce energy intake, improve quality, and increase activity levels. Programs such as these are also an opportunity to further assess factors contributing to obesity, such as psychological health and lifestyle behaviors. They are also used to identify whether patients have the level of commitment needed to comply with postoperative dietary recommendations.[5] Patients must be generally fit enough to undergo general anesthesia and surgery.

The care provided should be from the multidisciplinary team, including but not limited to surgeons, dieticians, family physicians, and psychologists. Patients should be counseled on the surgery's risks, benefits, and potential complications to make an informed decision. Patients should be aware that follow-up will last a minimum of 2 years, including dietetics monitoring, medication reviews, and physical and psychological support. Patients must remain on lifelong vitamin supplementation and require interval monitoring of blood tests, including parathyroid hormone, vitamin D, calcium, complete blood count, vitamin B12 and folate, iron studies, magnesium, and phosphate. They may be referred to the plastics team for cosmetic surgery, such as apronectomy postbariatric surgery, if appropriate. Referral to support groups can be a valuable resource for patients and clinicians. If, after 2 years, patients can be discharged from bariatric surgical services, they ought to continue to have annual monitoring of their nutritional and mineral state.

Bariatric surgery is divided into 2 categories: restrictive and malabsorptive. Restrictive techniques are devised to produce early satiety by reducing the size of the stomach and reducing food intake. Common restrictive procedures include laparoscopic sleeve gastrectomy (LSG) and laparoscopic adjustable gastric band. Malabsorptive procedures include biliopancreatic diversions with or without a duodenal switch. They aim to induce a state of malabsorption similar to short bowel syndrome by reducing the length of the bowel. The Roux-en-Y gastric bypass (REYGB) is a combination of both methods. LSG and REYBG are the most commonly used methods.[6] A meta-analysis found that all types of bariatric surgery led to a substantial and maintained reduction in weight.[7]

The average length of stay in the hospital following REYGB is one day and 2 days following LSG. BMI over 50 and sleeve gastrectomy were both associated with more extended postoperative admission.[8] There is a role in enhancing recovery after surgery (ERAS) in reducing admission length in bariatric surgery for suitable patients.[9] The rate of early (<30 days) postoperative complications is higher with REYGB than LSG. However, this does increase in 30-day mortality, re-admission rate, or reoperation rate.[10]

There is no difference in the rate of late complications between the 2 procedures.[11] After a gastric band, patients can expect to be able to return to work after one to 2 weeks and 2 to 3 weeks following a bypass, or LSG.

Issues of Concern

It is essential that clear postoperative dietary guidance is given and follow-up provided. Bariatric patients must take lifelong vitamin supplements following their procedure; however, studies suggest compliance declines to 5 months and is significantly reduced 2 to 3 years later.[12] Vitamin B12 and iron are the most commonly encountered deficiencies following surgery, and particular attention should be paid to the latter in menstruating women. Supplements can include Vitamins A, B12, C, D, calcium, magnesium, phosphate, iron, folic acid, zinc, copper, selenium, and thiamine. 

Surgical failure can be due to surgical complications requiring revision, insufficient weight loss, or weight regain following surgery. Revision surgery carries a higher risk than the initial surgery due to irreversible anatomical changes that have already been made in the primary surgery and the development of adhesions. Weight regain following surgery requires further studies to understand the mechanisms involved. Proposed contributing factors include inadequate follow-up and the development of detrimental lifestyles and behaviors. The desired reduction in the volume of food intake and, therefore, calorie intake with restrictive bariatric surgeries can be circumnavigated with items such as ice creams and milkshakes, which are exceptionally high in calories. Weight regain is particularly noted following sleeve gastrectomy, further emphasizing the importance of continued postoperative care.[13] 

Depressive disorders, binge eating, and uncontrolled snacking have been associated with poorer weight loss outcomes. To this end, most American bariatric programs require a preoperative psychological assessment to identify any potentially detrimental factors.[14] Psychological intervention is most effective postoperatively, and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) targeted towards eating behaviors is the most effective intervention.[12]

Clinical Significance

There are over 250,000 bariatric surgeries in the USA. Substantial data suggests that surgery improves outcome measures compared to medical treatment alone.[15] T2DM has previously been thought of as a chronic, incurable disease, with 50% of patients requiring insulin by 10 years. Bariatric surgery offers a way of sustained improvement or even leads to the resolution of T2DM in patients with difficult-to-manage, well-established disease. Although some studies show similar results with low-calorie diets (LCDs) of 900 calories per day, the results are not usually sustained beyond 3 months.[16] Rates of type 2 diabetes are consistently reduced following surgery. A British meta-analysis demonstrated complete resolution of T2DM in 78.1% of patients and an average loss of 55% of the excess weight.[17]  

Analysis of over 50,000 patients in the UK National Bariatric Surgical Register revealed that hospital mortality from bariatric surgery is low (0.07%). The associated morbidity was 3.1%, and the most commonly encountered complications were postoperative vomiting, atelectasis/pneumonia, fever/infection, and electrolyte imbalance.[18] Bariatric surgery is associated with significant reductions in CVD, dyslipidemia, T2DM, obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA), arthritis, some cancers, fatty liver disease, and gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD) from 1 year postoperatively. The benefit plateaus between 2 and 5 years postoperatively.

Although all patients should be recommended for surgical intervention on an individual basis in conjunction with the patient’s wishes, there is overwhelmingly statistically significant evidence of reducing overall mortality.[6]

Other Issues

Obesity is increasing on a global scale. The associated health concerns come with an increasingly global economic burden. In 2021, 73% of adults over 45 years old in England have a BMI greater than 25. The USA has the highest population rates of obesity globally, surpassing 40% for the first timIncreasinging demand for bariatric surgery comes with more significant pressure on specialist centers and teams. Patients with obesity require specialist equipment such as bariatric hospital beds, operating tables, and bariatric scanners. Bariatric surgery is a sub-specialty and requires specifically trained surgeons working alongside appropriately qualified teams.

The cost of medical care for patients with obesity is around 30% greater than for those with a normal BMI; this cost is higher still for those with a BMI greater than 35, which is 81% greater. The median procedural costs from a nationwide American inpatient cohort were $9,219 for gastric band, $10,537 for SG, and $12,543 for gastric bypass. Despite these figures, even if revision surgery is required, bariatric surgery is cost-saving over an individual’s lifetime, compared with nonsurgical management. In addition, indirect cost-savings are associated with bariatric surgery, including less time off work and enhanced productivity.[19]

Enhancing Healthcare Team Outcomes

As mentioned previously, there is a large MDT involved in the care of patients undergoing bariatric surgery. This MDT is comprised of but is not limited to surgeons, junior doctors, anesthetists, obesity medicine specialists, family Doctors, endocrinologists, gastroenterologists, psychiatrists, psychologists, diabetologists, nutritionists, dieticians, nurses, and physiotherapists, each with their own specialist areas of care and responsibility.

Achieving the best patient and team outcomes demands collaborative, cohesive, and efficient work between members of the MDT. Bariatric surgery is influenced by the key pillars of medical ethics: beneficence, non-maleficence, justice, and autonomy. At the center of the MDT is the patient, and their safety is always at the forefront of the care provided. An MDT that utilizes their individual skills and communicates effectively whilst working under the guidance of these ethical principles has enhanced outcomes.



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