When you hear the words “bariatric surgery,” you likely have all kinds of thoughts – and there’s a good chance many of your ideas are based on myths.

That’s because bariatric (or weight loss) surgery is not something that many people understand, and what they know of it is likely through outdated or secondhand sources. That is why the experienced doctors and surgeons at Longstreet Clinic’s Center for Weight Management spend lots of time with their patients, presenting information and answering questions so that the patient understands as much as possible before deciding on bariatric surgery.

In fact, Longstreet surgeons Robert L. Richard, M.D., FACS and Eric J. Velazquez, M.D., MBA, FACS, FASMBS, take pride in informing their patients and making communication a cornerstone of their approach to weight management. And Drs. Richard and Velazquez note that there are some basic truths that anyone considering bariatric surgery should know.

7 basic truths about bariatric surgery

Bariatric surgery is effective

Only those patients with a Body Mass Index of 40 or above (or a BMI of 35 with obesity-related health conditions – known as comorbidities) qualify for bariatric surgery. If you have a BMI of 40, you are classified as morbidly obese, and you face health-damaging consequences because of your weight. With that in mind, understand that bariatric surgery offers a definitive route to significant weight loss.

“Surgery is the most effective weight loss option that we have,” Dr. Richard said. “There are a lot of different options in surgery; there are many different procedures, and the successes with the different procedures vary. But when we compare weight loss surgery to medical weight loss, it is, hands down, the most effective treatment for a patient that has a weight issue.”

Bariatric surgery is versatile

Modern bariatric surgery offers numerous options that may be best suited to your condition. And at the Center for Weight Management, care providers work closely with the patient to determine the right choice – including the newest minimally-invasive procedure, Endoscopic Sleeve Gastroplasty (ESG). That flexibility of choice only increases the patient’s chances of long-term success.

“We do have a number of procedures. We have the sleeve gastrectomy; we have the gastric bypass; we have a procedure called the duodenal switch. We also have some endoscopic options, such as intragastric balloons, so it’s real exciting to be in bariatric surgery at this time,” Dr. Richard said. “Twenty years ago, we just had one operation. Today, we are much more prepared to handle patients for the long term.”

Bariatric surgery is about more than just weight

When you have a BMI of 35 or above for any length of time, your body is likely to develop obesity-related health conditions (comorbidities). High blood pressure, diabetes, sleep apnea, osteoarthritis, heart failure, increased risks for COVID-19 complications – all of these are common comorbidities associated with obesity and morbid obesity. However, the losses that bariatric surgery enables also helps patients to erase those health concerns.

“People with obesity accumulate a lot of comorbidities, a lot of diseases that come hand in hand with obesity, and a lot of the weight loss options that we offer (such as bariatric surgery) help those diseases to go away,” Dr. Velazquez said. “The patients, in other words, will get cured from those conditions by having surgery.”

Bariatric surgery is safe

While modern medicine is incredibly safe and effective, overall, there are still risks when undergoing any type of surgery. One of the great positives about bariatric surgery, is that it is one of the safest types of procedure you can undergo.

“We do everything to track complications, and they’re the lowest possible at this point. Bowel obstructions, bleeding, infections…They can happen, but we’re talking for many of these complications less than one percent. So, on average 96-97% of patients that have weight loss surgery go home with no complications,” Dr. Richard said.

“It’s a far cry from what we had 20 years ago, and I tell you, today we’re still getting better with improvements in our laparoscopic techniques, the advent of robotic techniques…So, bariatric surgery is one of the safest procedures that you can imagine — that we can imagine as bariatric surgeons, certainly safer than a lot of emergency procedures, such as gallbladder surgery or appendectomies or colon resections. So, that disastrous surgery that you used to hear about in the late ’90s, that’s not bariatric surgery today.”

Bariatric surgery recovery is quick

While there will be recovery time involved, patients can go back to their daily routines at a somewhat rapid pace following bariatric surgery. Thanks to laparoscopic, minimally invasive techniques and other advancements

“I recently had a patient who is a lawyer, and she was doing a deposition while she was still in the hospital, so she really didn’t take any time off,” Dr. Richard said. “But for the average patient, I say two weeks. If you can, take that first week off when you’re a little bit sore. The next week you might be a little bit fatigued. Two weeks is about average for most patients.”

Dr. Velazquez is also impressed by ever-shortening recovery times.

“It’s amazing how things have changed. Back in the day when procedures used to be done open, patients would stay for weeks in the hospital before they could be discharged. Now they can go home the day after surgery, sometimes the same day,” Dr. Velazquez said.

Bariatric surgery is not a magic bullet

As incredible and life changing as bariatric surgery can be, long-term success still requires work, patience, and determination from the patient. In fact, the patient must be prepared to follow a set of guidelines – and a different approach to eating – in the months and years following the procedure.

“Patients are going to be able to eat normal. We’re just going to have to redefine what is normal,” Dr. Velazquez said. “One of the things we do when patients come to consultation is discuss with them the way they eat, and we try to modify that pattern and try to guide to a more balanced and healthy way of eating. That’s the new normal. After surgery, there will be a special diet that patients will have to follow for several weeks, but we will get back to that new normal. And at that point they will be able to continue that. And our hope is that they will continue that forever.”

Often, how a patient thinks of food is part of the problem, so a new mindset – which is aided by the physical changes that occur during bariatric surgery – is also important to long-term success.

“I always tell patients that I see in a new patient visit that I don’t have an operation that lets them eat the way they’re currently eating and lose weight and keep it off. So, there’s going to be some lifestyle changes that they’re going to have to develop,” Dr. Richard said. “But those lifestyle changes don’t have to feel like a punishment. Most patients really enjoy eating after surgery; it’s just a different type of eating.”

Patients qualify for bariatric surgery at different rates

Even when bariatric surgery is determined as the best choice for the patient, it may take some time to select a procedure date – often depending upon health insurance.

“Sometimes insurers have policies that will dictate what amount of time the patient has to be in our weight loss program. Other times it’s related to the patient’s comorbid conditions, meaning if the patient has a lot of diseases, and these diseases have to be worked up, it may take some time. So those patients may take longer than someone with no diseases and no policy that requires time.”

If you believe that bariatric surgery might be an option for you, Drs. Richard and Velazquez and the caring staff at the Center for Weight Management are always eager to discuss your situation and are ready to help. To learn more, please call Longstreet Clinic’s Center for Weight Management today at 770-534-0110 or toll-free at 877-921-0110. Or you can watch our online seminar then fill out our contact form, and our weight loss team will reach out to you.

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