For some people, being overweight is about more than just looks. People who are 100 or more pounds over their ideal body weight are more likely to develop medical problems. These problems include diabetes, heart disease, sleep apnea, and joint trouble.
Lots of very overweight people turn their weight around by sticking to a doctor-approved diet and exercise plan. But some people just can't make these plans work. Doctors may do weight loss surgery if someone has tried but failed to lose weight and faces serious medical problems.
Weight loss surgery (also called bariatric surgery) can help very obese people lose weight. But it's not a quick fix. People need to put in a lot of hard work before and after the operation. That's why doctors don't do the surgery just to change the way someone looks.
Doctors only do surgery when they think patients can put in the effort needed to stay on track for the rest of their lives. People also need to be healthy enough to get the surgery. Doctors can't operate if a patient isn't well enough to handle surgery.
There are three main kinds of surgery for weight loss:
In a gastric bypass, a surgeon creates a small pouch at the top of the stomach. This pouch becomes the new stomach. Surgeons then connect the pouch to the middle part of the small intestine.
After the surgery, the stomach pouch holds a lot less food: about 1 cup instead of the 4 or more cups that a normal-sized stomach holds. Food also gets diverted around (bypasses) the larger part of the stomach and the upper part of the small intestine. Since the food doesn't travel the full length of the digestive system, the body does not take in as many calories.
With this operation, the surgeon removes part of the stomach. He or she makes a tube or "sleeve" out of the rest of the stomach. The new, banana-shaped stomach is much smaller than the original stomach.
After the operation, a person will eat less, feel full sooner, and be less hungry. Unlike gastric bypass, a gastric sleeve operation only changes the stomach. This kind of surgery doesn't divert food around part of the small intestine.
Like the other kinds of surgery, gastric banding makes the stomach smaller. But instead of permanently closing off part of the stomach, the surgeon puts a band around the top part to create a small stomach pouch. The band is linked to a port that is placed under the person's skin. The doctor uses the port to adjust the size of the pouch by tightening or loosening the band.
All three surgeries can be successful in teens. But they have different pros and cons.
Gastric bypass surgery can help people lose the most weight right away. It's a bigger operation than gastric banding or a gastric sleeve, though:
The gastric sleeve surgery is a simpler operation:
Gastric banding is the only surgery that's not permanent:
Like any operation, weight loss surgery has risks:
In rare cases, some people have serious problems after weight loss surgery, such as:
People also can have emotional side effects after weight loss surgery:
Weight loss surgery is no magic fix. There's a lot of hard work and self-discipline involved. People who get any kind of weight loss surgery have to learn new ways of eating — it's not that different from being on a diet.
But for people who face serious weight-related medical problems and who are willing to put the effort into a new way of life, weight loss surgery can be worth it.
Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: April 2015
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