Weight loss surgery (or bariatric surgery) is gaining in popularity in Australia. Almost two-thirds (63%) of Australians are overweight or obese (ABS 2015).
Obesity is a major public health issue and more and more people who have spent years struggling with their weight are looking to weight loss surgery as a miracle cure.
Weight loss surgery is wrongly portrayed as a simple, risk-free procedure – it is major surgery. Those contemplating surgery need to go in with their eyes open. Complications are not uncommon and a good surgical outcome is more often than not operator dependent.
How common is weight loss surgery?
Weight loss surgery may be considered for the treatment of Australians with a body mass index (BMI) over 40 or those with a BMI of 35 and conditions that may improve with weight loss (NHMRC 2013).
The latest official figures (AIHW 2017) show that there has been a 144% increase in the incidence of weight loss surgery in the course of a decade.
In 2018, the Australian Bariatric Surgery Registry’s report showed that most people having the operation were in their mid-40s and that almost 80% were women. This is slightly different to data collected by the AIHW which showed that women aged 35–44 were the most typical weight loss surgery patients.
Types of weight loss surgery procedures
Weight loss surgery makes changes to your digestive system either by making your stomach smaller or changing your small intestine. The aim is to force you to eat less than you did before the surgery.
In Australia, there are three main types of procedures. The most commonly performed procedure currently is the sleeve gastrectomy – formerly it was gastric banding.
The stomach is made smaller by permanently removing part of it – hence a forced reduction in appetite.
Gastric banding (lap band)
A silicone band is used to tie off a section of the stomach to make it smaller. This procedure does not have as significant an impact on appetite as the sleeve gastrectomy.
The stomach is divided into two sections and the small intestine is reconnected to the stomach’s smaller, upper pouch. You eat less but also absorb fewer calories from the food you do eat as the small intestine is involved.
This has a similar effect to the gastric bypass procedure but the large portion of stomach removed is attached to the middle part of the small intestine.
Risks and benefits of weight loss surgery
More than 10% of people who have weight loss surgery report complications. Some of those will be avoidable complications.
Gastric bands can slip, snap, or be placed in the wrong position. Stapling of the joins in gastric bypass surgery can be done incorrectly. The stomach can be punctured during surgery and not recognised and treated promptly.
It is important to consider the pros and cons of any surgery. Ensure that you have a list of questions for the surgeon including their complication rate and how many weight loss procedures he/she does each week.
No weight loss surgery is a miracle cure for obesity. Weight loss surgery involves a lifetime commitment to changed behaviours around diet and lifestyle. All patients need to prepare for surgery and be put on follow-up programs to help cope with the impact of surgery.
Weight loss surgery has been shown to be associated with improved outcomes in diabetes management, blood pressure, sleep apnoea and severe arthritis.
On the negative side, malabsorption of nutrients leading to vitamin deficiency, anaemia and protein deficiency are well established. This means a person who has weight loss surgery will most likely need to take vitamins or other supplements for life.
Check your weight loss surgeon’s qualifications and experience
Candidates for surgery are advised to choose their surgeon carefully. Upper gastrointestinal surgeons often specialise in this area of medicine.
It is recommended to check your surgeon’s qualifications and history of complications by questions pre-surgery. You can also check online – see www.ahpra.gov.au.
Claiming for compensation
Weight loss surgery is regarded as a medico-legal hotspot which means that it is increasingly one of the most litigated surgeries in Australia.
The many cases our expert health lawyers have handled or reviewed over the years have involved the following issues:
- failing to warn a patient of the risks of the procedure
- inadequate detection and/or treatment of a post-operative infection
- incorrect placement of the gastric band
- performing surgery when a patient is not a suitable candidate
- perforation of the stomach and other complications from poor surgical skill and care
- inadequate follow-up and/or adjustment of the band after the operation
- the bariatric surgeon’s lack of skill, expertise, or training.
Let us fight for you
If you or a loved one has experienced complications, injury or trauma from weight loss surgery (bariatric surgery), please call one of our caring, expert, health lawyers on 02 4929 3995 or get in touch here.