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American Diabetes Month: Diabetes and Weight Loss Surgery

Nov 11, 2015

Obesity isn’t just about physical appearance. People who are obese may also deal with a number of health conditions including high blood pressure, heart disease, arthritis, and diabetes, to name a few.

Those who make the decision to have weight loss surgery often do so not just because of the weight itself, but to manage health conditions they have developed due to the excess weight. When weighing the decision to undergo bariatric surgery against the risk of living with a potentially damaging and life-threatening condition, many people find that surgery is the right decision.

Type 2 diabetes is a weight-related develops when the body becomes insulin resistant. This means the body either does not produce enough insulin or the body does not properly use what insulin is produced.

Diabetes can lead to other health complications such as skin disorders, nerve damage (neuropathy), and eye problems like glaucoma, cataracts and diabetic retinopathy.  It also increases risk of high blood pressure, stroke and heart disease.

As obesity rises, so do cases of type 2 diabetes. In fact, out of the millions of people diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, approximately 80 to 90 percent of those people are also considered obese.

Managing diabetes with weight loss surgery

Type 2 diabetics who are considered obese may find exercise and diet help them maintain tighter control over their blood sugar numbers, but researchers are learning that weight loss surgery may indeed deliver a more lasting method for doing so.

“While weight loss surgery isn’t necessarily a panacea, recent research indicates it can have a profound effect on diabetes symptoms in obese patients who undergo procedures to help them shed pounds,” says Dr. Nick Nicholson, founder and lead surgeon at the North Texas-based Nicholson Clinic, one of the top weight loss surgery centers in the country.  “Some patients may even find the need to take diabetes medications to control blood sugar goes away after weight loss surgery helps rid them of extra pounds.”

Dr. Nicholson is referring to a study recently published in JAMA that was conducted by the University of Pittsburg Medical Center. To find out how big of an impact surgery could have on diabetics, researchers worked with a group of 61 obese diabetics ages 22 to 55. Researchers broke the main group into two smaller ones that would undergo different types of surgery and a third group that was prescribed lifestyle and exercise changes to control their symptoms.

Over the course of the study, researchers found that patients in the two surgical groups showed more marked improvements than those in the lifestyle group. About 40 percent of gastric bypass and 29 percent of adjustable band patients, in fact, were able to achieve complete or partial remission of diabetes symptoms over time.

“The findings are especially encouraging for those who struggle both with their weight and control of diabetes symptoms,” says Dr. Nicholson. “Weight loss surgery may indeed serve to help some reverse the impacts the disease has on their lives.”

Is weight loss surgery safe for diabetics?

More research is indicating that bariatric surgery is safe for patients who have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.“Researchers have found that laparoscopic gastric bypass procedures pose no greater risk for type 2 diabetics than other commonly performed surgical procedures,” says Dr. Nicholson. “In fact, this type of surgery may pose lower risks. Since maintaining weight is a critical facet in maintaining tight blood sugar control, diabetics who are obese may find the relief they need by seeking surgical intervention. By shedding pounds and adopting a healthier lifestyle, diabetics can help themselves lower risks for a host of complications related to this chronic disease.”

The latest findings come from the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio where investigators analyzed data from the American College of Surgeons’ National Surgical Quality Improvement Program. Researchers looked at surgical procedures involving diabetics performed between January 2007 and December 2012 to draw their conclusions. All told, 66,678 patient cases were reviewed. A total of 16,509 patients underwent gastric bypass procedures. The complication rate for those undergoing gastric bypass was 3.43 percent with a mortality rate of 0.30 percent. Ultimately, the findings indicated a risk comparable to other laparoscopic procedures involving diabetics. In fact, bariatric surgery was deemed to present a lower risk than other surgical interventions, such as coronary artery bypass grafts.

“Maintaining weight is simply vital for diabetics who wish to gain an upper hand on this disease and its potential side effects,” Dr. Nicholson says. “Surgical intervention can make a big difference for those deemed obese or morbidly obese. People interested in learning more about the potential benefits bariatric surgery can present should discuss this possibility carefully with their doctors.”

If you’re dealing with diabetes or any other weight-related condition, consider talking with your doctor about your candidacy for bariatric surgery. By taking the steps to lose weight and live a healthier lifestyle, you can potentially eliminate a variety of life-changing and even life-threatening conditions.