The benefits of weight-loss surgery — also known as bariatric surgery — extend far beyond shedding pounds. It can dramatically improve a variety of serious and life-threatening health conditions, including cancer risk, heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and sleep apnea.
For women, the surgery can also be life-changing by restoring fertility. Up to a third of women who struggle with infertility also suffer from obesity. Losing weight has been demonstrated to increase their chances of getting pregnant.
"Many women with obesity have polycystic ovarian syndrome, a condition in which a woman's hormones are out of balance, causing irregular menstrual cycles," explains Dr. Julie Ellner, a board-certified surgeon at Sharp Memorial Hospital who specializes in weight-loss surgery. "The syndrome is caused by body fat releasing an estrogen-like chemical that leads to uterine and breast cancer as well as infertility."
After undergoing bariatric surgery, many women begin having periods regularly for the first time in years. They go on to have healthier pregnancies, with a lower risk for a variety of complications, including:
- High blood pressure
- Gestational diabetes
- Birth defects
- Low and high infant birth weights
- Premature birth
- Cesarean section delivery
Is weight loss surgery right for you?
The American Medical Association recommends that doctors suggest bariatric surgery to patients who have a body mass index, or BMI, that calculates to 35 or higher, and who have been unable to lose weight by dieting. A person's BMI is a ratio between their height and weight.
Bariatric surgery reduces the amount of food it takes for you to feel full, and some procedures suppress hunger with a boost in metabolism. Patients who undergo a procedure called gastric bypass generally lose at least 75 percent of excess weight within the first year, with other procedures taking a little longer.
It is extremely important that all patients commit to lifetime follow-up care with their bariatric surgeon to help ensure they stay healthy and keep off the weight.
It's important for women to take bariatric vitamins as directed by their doctor after undergoing bariatric surgery to avoid nutritional deficiencies. These deficiencies can cause greater concerns during pregnancy.
Benefits beyond fertility
According to Dr. Ellner, the lifetime benefits of weight-loss surgery go beyond restoring fertility. "Studies show that women who underwent bariatric surgery report better sexual functioning, a better quality of life overall and happier marriages."
What's more, a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showed that children born post-bariatric surgery were better guarded against heart disease, and had smaller waists and hip girth, lower blood pressure, and better insulin resistance, which protects against diabetes.
Women interested in the procedure should attend a free informational seminar provided by a local bariatric surgeon. The majority of health insurance plans cover the surgery, though women should find out whether there are any restrictions under their coverage. The office staff of many bariatric surgeons will perform this service for their patients at no charge.