Ask Your Doctor Discussion Guide:
Introduction to Bariatric Surgery As a Weight Loss Option

Ask Your Doctor Discussion Guide
Best for: primary care physician appointment or weight loss surgery seminar

What is weight loss or "bariatric" surgery, and why do I need surgery to lose weight?

"Bariatrics" is a branch of medicine that relates to obesity and its associated diseases. Bariatric surgery, or weight loss surgery, is a common term used to describe a variety of operations for treating severe obesity. These operations are performed to make physical changes to the stomach and/or the small intestine in order to help you decrease the amount of food you eat.

What are the benefits of weight loss surgery?

Most people who undergo bariatric surgery lose a significant amount of weight. After they lose the weight, they are also more likely to keep it off, provided they continue to observe the amount of food they eat.

Serious health concerns related to obesity often improve or disappear following surgery and weight loss. Some of these health concerns include:

Obesity is also associated with pregnancy complications and menstrual problems, and it often leads to psychological and behavioral conditions such as depression.

Quality of life also improves for many people after weight loss surgery, as they experience improvement in their physical, behavioral and social well-being.

What types of weight loss surgeries are currently available?

There are several types of bariatric surgery, which fall into two categories:

The two most widely selected restrictive and restrictive/malabsorptive procedures include adjustable gastric banding (restrictive) and gastric bypass (restrictive/malabsorptive).

Am I a good candidate for weight loss surgery?

You and your doctors your primary care provider (PCP) and your weight loss surgeon need to consider many factors prior to determining if weight loss surgery is right for you. As you go through the decision process, ask yourself if you are up to the challenges you will face.

Weight loss surgery may be suitable if:

Your weight loss surgeon will ultimately determine if bariatric surgery is right for you, so be sure to ask your surgeon about your individual case.

How do I calculate my BMI?

To calculate your BMI, enter your height and weight into the BMI calculator at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute Web site. A BMI of 30 or above is considered obese. Once you determine your BMI, use the table below to identify your weight category.

Body Mass Index (BMI) Weight Category
Less than 18.5 Underweight
18.5 - 24.9 Acceptable
25 - 29.9/T Overweight
30 - 39.9 Obese
(Surgery may be suitable for those with BMI of at least 35 with at least one weight-related health condition)
40 and over Excessively obese
(Suitable for surgery)

Your weight loss surgeon will ultimately determine if bariatric surgery is right for you, so be sure to ask your surgeon about your individual case.

How much weight will I lose?

Weight loss surgery should not to be mistaken for a cosmetic procedure, and it is not a simple, “quick-fix” solution to an excessive, long-term weight problem. However, studies do show that surgery leads to significant weight loss that can be maintained long-term. Surgery also leads to substantial improvements or complete remission of many health-related problems, such as diabetes, hypertension and hyperlipidemia. Your weight loss results will depend on your choice of procedure, your commitment to the necessary lifestyle changes, and your individual situation.

What other lifestyle changes would I need to make?

Weight loss surgery is only the first step in a series of lifestyle changes that you will need to adopt in order to lose weight and stay healthy. Many surgeons and insurance providers require surgery candidates to enroll in and successfully complete nutritional counseling programs in order to learn and practice the healthy eating and exercise habits that will be necessary after surgery.

What are the risks of weight loss surgery?

Weight loss surgeries are major surgeries that involve risks and may lead to significant short-term and long-term health complications. The risks and complications vary according to the types of surgical procedure you elect to have and often depend on your age, level of excess weight, other existing health conditions, and how well you manage your health and your lifestyle.

Problems associated with bariatric surgery can range from minor to life-threatening. Complications may occur during, immediately after or within weeks or several months after surgery. Additional surgery, re-admission to the hospital, medication or nutritional supplements may be required. Health insurance may not cover some or any of the costs related to these unanticipated circumstances

If you choose to have the surgery, your surgeon will carefully explain the risks that are unique to you and specific to the type of operation you decide upon. Be sure to ask your surgeon all the questions you may have about risks and benefits of weight loss surgery before undergoing your procedure.

How can I find a reputable weight loss surgeon?

Finding a reputable weight loss surgeon can increase your chance of having a successful operation, a good recovery, and satisfactory progress toward your weight loss goal. You may choose to work with your PCP to find an experienced weight loss surgeon. Some factors to consider in your selecting a surgeon include: the surgeons qualifications and number of successful operations he or she has performed, where you live, what type of health insurance you have and your current physical condition.

The American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery (ASMBS) can help you and your PCP locate a weight-loss surgeon. The ASMBS promotes the practice and improvement of bariatric surgery through research and education. A member of the ASMBS is board-certified in weight loss surgery and has been the lead surgeon in at least 25 bariatric operations in the previous two years.