Going Under the Knife to Lengthen Your Life

Gastric bypass surgery may improve long-term survival in obese patients

(RxWiki News) Weight loss surgery can help obese people lose weight and keep it off — and new evidence suggests it might also lengthen their lives.

Compared to obese patients who didn't undergo gastric bypass, patients who had this weight loss surgery had higher long-term survival rates, a new study found.

“The results from this study indicate that for patients who are morbidly obese, treatment with gastric bypass provides a survival advantage,” said lead study author Peter T. Hallowell, MD, of the University of Virginia Health System in Charlottesville, in a press release.

In this study, around 400 obese patients had a gastric bypass and a similarly sized group did not. In gastric bypass, a surgeon reduces the size of the stomach and reconnects the small intestine to this smaller stomach to bypass part of the small intestine. The result is that patients can eat less and absorb fewer calories from their food.

Weight loss surgeries like gastric bypass are typically reserved for the very obese — who face a raised risk of health problems like heart disease, diabetes and cancer — and those who haven't found success through other weight loss methods like diet and exercise.

Dr. Hallowell and team found that the survival benefits in patients who had the surgery started slowly. A year after they had surgery, these patients had similar survival rates to those who hadn't had a bypass.

But five years in, 2.2 percent of the gastric bypass patients had died — compared to 6.7 percent of those who hadn't had the surgery. By 10 years, those figures went up to 6.5 and 12.7 percent, respectively.

In obese patients, losing weight — through surgery, diet, exercise or a combination — can have significant health benefits. Risks for all kinds of health problems, like heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes, go down. Patients who are overweight or obese should speak to a doctor about appropriate and safe weight loss methods.

This study was published Feb. 5 in the American Journal of Surgery.

A National Institutes of Health training grant funded this research. The authors disclosed no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
February 5, 2015