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Is weight-loss surgery for you?

Bariatric surgery can help severely obese people shed extra pounds and improve their health. But it's not for everyone.

Anyone who has tried to shed a few extra pounds knows that the process can be a challenge. But for severely obese people, losing a large amount of weight and keeping it off with diet and exercise alone can be especially difficult.

Medication to control appetite helps. But according to the Society of American Gastrointestinal and Endoscopic Surgeons, people with obesity are still likely to regain their lost weight after using these techniques.

In some cases, weight-loss surgery may be the answer.

Are you a candidate?

Weight-loss surgery, also known as bariatric surgery, can help obese people lose weight and keep it off. However, it's not right for everyone. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases and other experts, doctors may suggest this surgery for adults who:

  • Have a body mass index, or BMI, of 40 or higher.
  • Have a BMI of 35 or higher along with a serious medical condition linked to obesity. This includes problems such as high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and severe sleep apnea.
  • Have a BMI of 30 or higher with type 2 diabetes that is difficult to control.
  • Have tried to lose weight using medical treatment without success.
  • Are willing to keep in touch with a medical professional for many years for observation and follow-up.
  • Understand the possible risks and complications of surgery, which may include infection, bowel obstruction and blood clots. Other problems, such as gallstones or hernias, can develop later.
  • Don't have a metabolic or hormonal condition that causes severe obesity.

Because their bodies are not mature, teenagers have special criteria to determine whether this surgery is right for them. (See below for more information.)

If you meet the criteria for weight-loss surgery, you and your doctor will decide which procedure you will have. There are several types, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. Your surgeon may have a preference, and factors such as your eating habits and previous stomach surgeries are also important. You can learn more about the types of bariatric surgery here.

Questions to consider

Choosing to have weight-loss surgery is a serious decision. In addition to your doctor's approval, you should consider these questions:

  • Are you committed to a lifetime of eating small meals, taking dietary supplements and getting regular exercise? These and other habits can determine your weight-loss success and your health after surgery.
  • Does the surgery facility you will use offer a program to help you with diet, exercise and other aspects of your care after surgery?
  • Do you have the support of your family? It's important to have people around you who can help you stick with the lifestyle changes.
  • Do you live close enough to the surgery facility to keep up with follow-up visits?

Weight-loss surgery for teens

Bariatric surgery can help obese teens lose weight. Studies suggest that the surgery is fairly safe for teens, but the long-term effects are unknown.

According to the National Institutes of Health, weight-loss surgery may be appropriate for young people who:

  • Have a BMI of 40.
  • Have a BMI of 35 or more with serious health problems linked to their weight, such as type 2 diabetes or sleep apnea.

Parents should also consider whether their child is emotionally prepared for the lifestyle changes weight-loss surgery requires.

Reviewed 7/12/2023

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