Because it is very difficult to lose weight K, through diet and exercise, it's not surprising that more people are turning to bariatric, or gastric bypass, surgery to treat their weight problems.

But several new studies point out the risks that are associated with this procedure.

Study Findings

One study conducted by researchers at the University of Chicago and the University of California, Irvine, found that the number of bariatric surgeries being performed in the United States have increased dramatically, from 13,365 in 1998 to an estimated 102,794 in 2003.

Another study found that rehospitalization rates one year following the surgery were 19.3%. In contrast, in the year prior to the surgery, hospitalization rates were only 7.9%. The most common reasons for being admitted to the hospital prior to the surgery were obesity-related problems. After the surgery, the most common reasons for hospitalization were surgery-related problems, such as a hernia.

A University of Washington study found the death rate for Medicare recipients 30 days after gastric bypass surgery was 2%. After 90 days, that rate was 2.8% and after one year, the death rate for bariatric surgery patients receiving Medicare benefits was 4.6%. This study also found that when the surgery was performed by a surgeon who had not done many of these procedures the death rate was 1.6 times higher than when the procedure was done by a more experienced surgeon.


"I was not surprised by these findings. These studies are really a very small piece of the overall picture for bariatric surgery," says Dr. Edward Livingston, chairman of gastrointestinal and endocrine surgery at the University of Texas Southwestern School of Medicine and chairman of the bariatric surgery work group for the Department of Veterans Affairs' national health care system.

"Bariatric surgeries result in weight loss, but they can [also] result in complications and death. They can improve the complications of obesity and the quality of life, and they may increase longevity," says Livingston. However, the decision about whether to have the surgery is a complicated one and needs to be made on a case-by-case basis, he adds

"These findings indicate more morbidity in the initial three years after surgery. People should be aware when they're making this decision that this is a possibility," says study author Dr. David Zingmond, an assistant professor of medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California at Los Angeles' Center for Surgical Outcomes and Quality.

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