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Posted: Monday, November 17, 2014

Bariatric surgery is not the easy way out

No matter how you look at it, obesity is a disease. It affects millions of Americans, and can carry with it a number of comorbidities that can make life much more difficult and even painful. Unlike a lot of diseases, however, obesity requires not only medical intervention, but also a certain amount of self-awareness. Obese patients often don’t seek medical attention until another medical problem – such as joint pain, blood pressure issues or trouble controlling blood sugar – begins to trouble them enough to decide they need help. Some of those problems might well have been avoided had those patients sought medical help for their weight earlier on in their lives.

One possible treatment for obesity is bariatric surgery. Blount Memorial bariatric surgeon Dr. Onyeka Nwokocha says one of the common misconceptions about bariatric surgery is that it essentially is taking the easy way out. “Typically, obese patients have been dealing with the disease for a number of years,” Nwokocha said. “It takes a lot of courage for them to come forward and seek medical attention. Prior to any surgery, we guide them through rigorous testing, in addition to changing their diet and level of exercise. Sometimes, this process can take up to six months, which in itself, shows the dedication on the patient’s part,” he explained. “Often, when a person reaches a certain level of obesity, the options are limited for what they can do on their own to lose weight. Studies have shown that, once you reach a body mass index (BMI) of over 35, there are many variables that come into play that limit what a patient can do through diet and exercise,” he added.

Nwokocha says for bariatric surgery patients, the operation is the easy part. “The most challenging aspect of this operation is the continuing lifestyle change, something that is absolutely possible,” he said. “The patients have to continue with the structure of the program we create for them, including their recommended exercise, cessation of smoking, how much they can drink and simple selection of foods. There’s really nothing easy about it at all,” he explained. Still, Nwokocha says the combined success rate for gastric bypass and gastric sleeve procedures is 85 percent. “That means that 85 out of 100 bariatric surgery patients are successful at maintaining their weight loss long-term. We still don’t have a good handle on why the other 15 percent don’t have that success, and there are many possible reasons, but that 85 percent is something that we just cannot ignore,” he added.

“I’d really like people to start looking at obesity, not from the fact that a person appears overweight, but from the standpoint that obesity equals diabetes, and diabetes almost certainly equals heart attack, stroke or other vascular problems,” Nwokocha said. “When people look at it that way, by choosing to have bariatric surgery, they’re not only losing weight, but also prolonging their lives and reducing their risks for major health complications in the future,” he added.

The Blount Memorial Weight Management Center will offer a presentation on bariatric surgery and the laparoscopic treatments of obesity, including gastric sleeve and bypass procedures, on Thursday, Nov. 20 at 8 a.m. in the East Tennessee Medical Group community room, located at 266 Joule St. in Alcoa. These free, no-obligation seminars offer a chance to learn more and meet Dr. Nwokocha.

For more information or to register for an upcoming seminar, call 865-977-4673 or 866-300-8644.

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