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Why the Benefits of Bariatric Surgery Extend Far Beyond Weight Loss

Photo credit: Lopolo/Shutterstock

Photo credit: Lopolo/Shutterstock

The biggest benefit of bariatric surgery is indisputably weight loss. However, many people don’t realize that weight-loss surgery has evolved to become significantly more comprehensive — now encompassing nutrition and exercise education, as well as cardiac and sleep screenings during preoperative and postoperative care. As such, the metrics considered for successful bariatric surgery include a number of factors beyond simply weight loss. 

“An overall benefit [is that] patients undergo a transformation process where a lot of the social factors that play into obesity slowly go away,” says David S. Tichansky, MD, FACS, Director of Jefferson’s Bariatric and Metabolic Surgery Program. The other benefits, he explains, are subtler and perhaps not observable in the way significant weight loss is. Examples include the impact on diabetes (“a significant number of patients see improvement or resolution”) and high blood pressure (“many see improvement and, in many cases, it goes away”). The possible improvement or reversal of these ailments is hugely impactful for the patient.

Likewise, as patients lose excess weight, they may also experience an increased capacity for physical activity because their joints are no longer strained. Dr. Tichansky says, “Many with arthritic pains—while [he or she] don’t get rid of it—will have less pain.” The ability to exercise aids the physical and mental effects of bariatric surgery, allowing patients to reclaim their bodies. These positive effects, in turn, improve the patient’s self-esteem.

The added benefits of bariatric surgery also manifest during the education process. The pre-operative process—from initial consultation to the surgery—takes about three months. “[In the beginning,] we have everyone evaluated by a nutritionist to get their baseline of nutrition knowledge,” says Tichansky,  “It’s not just what they’re eating, but what they know [about nutrition]. That gives us a starting point.”

This emphasis on nutrition proves critical as it provides patients with the knowledge needed to make informed decisions about their diets. “If you don’t see a dietitian, you’re almost doomed to failure,” Tichansky explains, “I just don’t see it working.” The educational process is done pre-operatively and post-operatively with both dieticians and nurse practitioners. Patients will also see a psychiatrist or psychologist to ensure they’re both mentally and emotionally prepared for surgery.

The comprehensive care leading up to and following the surgery equips patients with the necessary tools for post-surgery success. That success, as we’ve learned, transcends weight loss and positively impacts patients physically as well as mentally.

Dr. Tichansky sees these peripheral benefits on a regular basis: “I just spoke to a gentleman yesterday … and he said when he was morbidly obese, that wasn’t him; he felt trapped. Now, he enjoys being active and spending time with his family and friends. He said, ‘Thank you for giving me my life back.’”

Jefferson Health will be conducting a web chat with a bariatric surgeon on January 25th. If you still have questions about weight loss surgery, continue to submit your questions here for an upcoming blog post.