Benefits of Weight-Loss Surgery May Outweigh Risks for Some, Experts Say

American Heart Association statement points to heart health improvements in severely obese people

MONDAY, March 14 (HealthDay News) -- The benefits of bariatric (weight loss) surgery may outweigh the risks for some severely obese people, according to a new scientific statement from the American Heart Association.

By restricting food intake and/or preventing full absorption of food as it passes through the gastro-intestinal tract, bariatric surgery is meant to reduce a person's caloric intake.

The statement-writing committee reviewed available scientific literature and concluded that bariatric surgery can result in long-term weight loss and significant reductions in cardiac and other risk factors for certain people who are severely obese, which is defined as having a body mass index of 40 or more.

"The statement is not an across-the-board endorsement of bariatric surgery for the severely obese," statement lead author Dr. Paul Poirier, director of the prevention/rehabilitation program at the Quebec Heart and Lung Institute, Laval University Hospital, cautioned in an American Heart Association news release. "Bariatric procedures are generally safe; however, this is not a benign surgery. At the moment, bariatric surgery should be reserved for patients who can undergo surgery safely, have severe obesity and have failed attempts at medical therapy."

Specifically, bariatric surgery can lead to improvements in weight-related health problems such as diabetes, high cholesterol, liver disease, high blood pressure, obstructive sleep apnea and cardiovascular dysfunction, the authors say.

The statement authors also noted that some recent studies have suggested that bariatric surgery helps prolong the lives of severely obese people.

However, like all surgeries, bariatric surgery does carry surgical risks -- including infection, internal bleeding, blood clots and death, according to the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery. It also has long-term implications for patients' lifestyle. For example, patients have to make lifelong behavior changes, such as eating less and taking vitamin and mineral supplements, and follow up with the surgical team.

The statement appears March 14 in the journal Circulation.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive Diseases has more about bariatric surgery.

Robert Preidt SOURCE: American Heart Association, news release, March 14, 2011

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