What Are the Pros and Cons of Bariatric Surgery for Diabetes?

Jillian O Keeffe

Diabetes is found in two different forms, one of which is associated with a patient being overweight; this is called Type 2 diabetes. Bariatric surgery focuses on making the capacity of the stomach smaller, reducing the amount of food that can be eaten at any one time. By reducing the food intake and the weight of the Type 2 diabetes patient, bariatric surgery for diabetes can potentially improve, or even cure the disease. As well as improvement in this condition, the patient may also benefit from other health improvements such as an increase in cardiovascular health and a potential lengthening of life. Dangers of bariatric surgery for diabetes include a risk of death from complications and a permanent alteration of diet lifestyle.

Bariatric surgery is a procedure usually reserved for extremely overweight people who have not experienced success with conventional weight loss methods.
Bariatric surgery is a procedure usually reserved for extremely overweight people who have not experienced success with conventional weight loss methods.

Type 2 diabetes commonly arises after a person becomes overweight, eating too much food for the body to keep proper control of blood sugar levels. Insulin is a hormone that collects excess sugar in the blood and stores it as glycogen in the liver. The body has to maintain blood sugar levels within a certain range, as too little causes weakness or even death, and too much damages cells. The stress placed on this system through overeating can damage the insulin regulation system, and produce Type 2 diabetes.

Left untreated, type 2 diabetes can result in blindness and amputation.
Left untreated, type 2 diabetes can result in blindness and amputation.

Bariatric surgery is also called weight-loss surgery, as the aim of the operation is to help people lose weight. Typically, this is achieved by making the space in the stomach smaller. The procedures require a skilled operating team and a general anesthetic. Risks of the operation include infections and other complications like abnormal bleeding or a reaction to the anesthetic.

Medical studies do show, however, that the operations are generally successful in helping people to lose weight if the correct diet rules are followed after the procedure. In addition, since the eating habits of the person typically change, and the excess fat on the body tends to disappear, the stress placed on the blood sugar system can become lessened. This means that bariatric surgery for diabetes can be beneficial, apart from the potential benefit of the associated weight-loss.

As of 2011, bariatric surgery for diabetes is not a common procedure, compared to bariatric surgery for weight-loss. Typical treatment for Type 2 diabetes, apart from lifestyle advice, involves medication. As Type 2 diabetes can cause blindness or even result in amputation of a limb, the risk to the person from the disease, and from any medication, can be taken into account when assessing the relative dangers of the surgery versus lifestyle changes and medicine. Medical problems present because of the excess weight can also become better with weight loss, such as high blood pressure, sleep apnea and the surgery may also lengthen life. In addition, losing weight through healthy eating and exercise can be difficult for patients to achieve, whereas the chance of success is often higher with surgery.

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