a scale representing bariatric surgery

What is Bariatric Surgery?

Bariatric surgery refers to a fairly broad range of procedures that are aimed at helping patients lose weight. Traditionally these procedures are grouped into two different categories—malabsorptive procedures and restrictive procedures. Malabsorptive surgeries prevent the body from absorbing as many calories or nutrients from the foods a patient eats, while restrictive surgeries reduce the total volume of food a patient’s stomach can hold.

There are also mixed procedures which combine elements of both of these categories. Here is a quick look at some of the most important things to know when it comes to bariatric surgery.

Common Types of Bariatric Surgery

  • Lap band surgery

    This is a commonly used and relatively noninvasive type of bariatric surgery. Doctors attach a band around the upper portion of the stomach, restricting the amount of food it can contain at any given time. This band can be tightened or loosened depending on a particular patient’s needs.

  • Sleeve gastrectomy

    During this procedure, a large portion of the stomach is completely removed. The remaining portion is re-shaped like a tube, which limits the amount of food that it can hold. This procedure reduces the body’s ability to produce ghrelin—a hormone responsible for generating the sensation of hunger.

  • Gastric bypass

    With a gastric bypass, doctors staple off the upper portion of the stomach to create a new, smaller one. This is then connected directly to the small intestine, which reduces the absorption of calories, in addition to limiting the amount of food a person can eat. This is the most common bariatric procedure performed in the United States.

Benefits of Bariatric Surgery

Bariatric surgery helps patients lose drastic amounts of weight that they might not otherwise be able to lose on their own. This weight loss helps reduce their risk of obesity-related conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, strokes, and sleep apnea. Keep in mind that bariatric surgery is not generally considered a “cosmetic” procedure and isn’t recommended for people with only modest amounts of weight to lose. Rather, it is reserved for patients whose health is being severely hurt by their excess weight.

Risks of Bariatric Surgery

While bariatric surgery can be a life-saving procedure for some, it’s not without risks. These risks include some common to most surgeries: adverse reaction to anesthesia, uncontrolled bleeding, infection at the incision site, and, in severe cases, even death. The long-term risks associated with bariatric surgery include malnutrition, stomach ulcers, obstruction of the bowels, and hypoglycemia.

Last Updated: February 15, 2017