Preparation for Weight Loss Surgery
What does evaluation for weight loss surgery involve?
Your evaluation will start with an initial visit with your surgeon and/or nurse practitioner. A medical history and physical exam will be completed. You will then be asked to see our nutritionist and psychologist who will help evaluate your knowledge about nutrition and your commitment to change. These assessments are most often a requirement of insurance companies in the approval process and help prepare you for the process of lifestyle changes needed to succeed with postoperative weight loss.
What impact do my medical problems have on the decision for weight loss surgery, and how do the medical problems affect risk?
Medical problems, such as serious heart or lung problems, can increase the risk of any surgery. On the other hand, if they are problems that are related to the patient's weight, they also increase the need for surgery. Severe medical problems may not dissuade the surgeon from recommending gastric bypass surgery if it is otherwise appropriate, but those conditions will make a patient's risk higher than average.
What can I do before the appointment to speed up the process of getting ready for weight loss surgery?
- Select a primary care physician if you don't already have one, and establish a relationship with him or her. Work with your physician to ensure that your routine health maintenance testing is current. For example, women may have a pap smear, and if over 40 years of age, a breast exam. And for men, this may include a prostate specific antigen test (PSA).
- Make a list of all the diets you have tried (a diet history) and bring it to your doctor.
- Bring any pertinent medical data to your appointment with the bariatric surgeon - this would include reports of special tests (echocardiogram, sleep study, etc.) or hospital discharge summary if you have been in the hospital.
- Bring a list of your medications with dose and schedule.
- Stop smoking. Surgical patients who use tobacco products are at a higher surgical risk.
Which weight loss surgery is right for me?
Several factors may affect your eligibility for a particular type of surgery, including previous abdominal surgeries, body size and configuration and other health problems. Your surgeon will help you determine your individual options at the time of your initial consultation.
Is the surgery covered by most insurances?
There are many different levels of coverage for weight loss surgery. Here are some key steps you should take to obtain information form your insurance company.
- Read and understand the "certificate of coverage" that your insurance company is required by law to give you. If you do not have one, consult your company's benefits administrator or ask your insurance company directly.
- You may be required to start with your primary care provider. In some cases, he or she is the only one you can ask for a referral to a qualified bariatric surgeon. Even if you are not required to get a referral, it is a good idea to have support of your primary care provider.
- Before visiting the bariatric surgeon, organize your medical records, including your history of dieting efforts. They will be valuable documents to have at every stage of the approval process.
- Document every visit you make to a healthcare professional for obesity-related issues or visits to supervised weight loss programs. Document "other" weight loss attempts made through diet centers and fitness club memberships. Keep good records, including receipts.
Why do insurance companies deny approval for weight loss surgery?
Payment may be denied because there may be a specific exclusion in your policy for weight loss surgery or "treatment of obesity." Such an exclusion can often be appealed when the surgical treatment is recommended by your bariatric surgeon or referring physician as the best therapy to relieve life-threatening obesity-related health conditions, which usually are covered.
Insurance payment may also be denied for lack of "medical necessity." A therapy is deemed to be medically necessary when it is needed to treat a serious or life-threatening condition. In the case of morbid obesity, alternative treatments - such as dieting, exercise, behavior modification, and some medications - are considered to be available. Medical necessity denials usually hinge on the insurance company's request for some form of documentation, such as 1 to 5 years of physician-supervised dieting or a psychiatric evaluation, illustrating that you have tried unsuccessfully to lose weight by other methods.
What can I do to help the process?
Gather all the information (diet records, medical records, medical tests) your insurance company may require. This reduces the likelihood of a denial for failure to provide "necessary" information. Letters from your personal physician and consultants attesting to the "medical necessity" of treatment are particularly valuable. When several physicians report the same findings, it may confirm a medical necessity for surgery.
What if my insurance company denies approval?
Even if your initial request for pre-authorization is not approved, you still have options available. Insurers provide an appeal process that allows you to address each specific reason they have given for denying your request. It is important that you reply quickly. It is also recommended that, at this point, you enlist the help of an experienced insurance attorney or insurance advocate to properly navigate the complexities of the appeal process. Some insurers place limits on the number of appeals you may make, so it is important to be well prepared and that you clearly understand the appeal rules of your specific plan.
Laparoscopic Bariatric Surgery
Does laparoscopic surgery decrease the risk?
No. Laparoscopic operations carry the same risk as the procedure performed as an open operation. The benefits of laparoscopic surgeries are typically less discomfort, shorter hospital stay, earlier return to work and reduced scarring.
Will the doctor leave a drain in after laparoscopic surgery?
Most patients will have a small tube to allow drainage of any accumulated fluids from the abdomen. This is a safety measure, and it is usually removed a few days after the weight loss (bariatric) surgery. Generally, it produces no more than minor discomfort.
If I have laparoscopic bariatric surgery, what can I expect when I wake up in the recovery room?
Most gastric bypass or sleeve gastrectomy patients will receive a Patient Controlled Analgesia (PCA) or a self-administered pain management system, to help control pain. As with any major surgery, you are in danger of death from a blood clot or other surgical side effects. Statistically, the risk of death during these procedures is less than 1 percent. Your doctors will have assessed you for risks and prepared accordingly.
All abdominal operations carry the risks of bleeding, infection in the incision, thrombophlebitis of legs (blood clots), lung problems (pneumonia, pulmonary embolisms), strokes or heart attacks, anesthetic complications, and blockage or obstruction of the intestine. These risks are greater in morbidly obese patients.
The Hospital Stay
What is done to minimize the risk of deep vein thrombosis/pulmonary embolism or DVT/PE?
Because a DVT originates on the operating table, therapy begins before a patient goes to the operating room. Generally, patients are treated with sequential leg compression stockings and given a blood thinner prior to surgery. Both of these therapies continue throughout your hospitalization. The third major preventive measure involves getting the patient moving and out of bed as soon as possible after the operation to restore normal blood flow in the legs.
Will I have a lot of pain?
Every attempt is made to control pain after surgery to make it possible for you to move about quickly and become active. This helps avoid problems and speeds recovery. Often several drugs are used together to help manage your post-surgery pain. While you are still in the hospital, a Patient Controlled Analgesia (PCA), which allows you to give yourself a dose of pain medicine on demand, may be used by your physician. Various methods of pain control, depending on your type of surgical procedure, are available. Ask your surgeon about other pain management options.
How long do I have to stay in the hospital?
As long as it takes to be self-sufficient. Although it can vary, the hospital stay (including the day of surgery) can be 1-2 days for a laparoscopic band, 2-3 days for a laparoscopic gastric bypass, and 3-5 days for an open gastric bypass. Many gastric banding surgeries are being done as outpatient procedures and do not require an overnight stay.
How soon will I be able to walk?
Almost immediately after surgery, nursing staff will assist you to get up and move about. Patients are asked to walk or stand at the bedside on the night of surgery, take several walks the next day and thereafter. On leaving the hospital, you may be able to care for all your personal needs, but will need help with shopping, lifting and with transportation.
How soon can I drive?
For your own safety, you should not drive until you have stopped taking narcotic pain medications and can move quickly and alertly to stop your car, especially in an emergency. Usually this takes 2-3 days for band surgery and 7-14 days for gastric bypass or sleeve gastrectomy surgery.
What should I bring with me to the hospital?
Basic toiletries (comb, toothbrush, etc.) and clothing may be provided by the hospital, but most people prefer to bring their own. Choose clothes for your stay that are easy to put on and take off. Because of your incision, your clothes may become stained by blood or other body fluids. Other ideas:
- Reading and writing materials
- Crossword and other puzzles
- Personal toiletries
- Bathrobe and slippers
- A list of your current medications
Do not bring valuables or your medications to the hospital.
Life After Weight Loss Surgery
What do I need to do to be successful after surgery?
The basic rules are simple and easy to follow:
- Immediately after weight loss surgery, your doctor will provide you with special dietary guidelines. You will need to follow these guidelines closely. Many bariatric surgeons begin patients with liquid diets, moving to semi-solid foods and later, sometimes weeks or months later, solid foods can be tolerated without risk to the surgical procedure performed. Allowing time for proper healing of your new stomach pouch is necessary and important.
- After your recovery, your diet will consist of child-size portions. Protein in the form of lean meats (chicken, turkey, fish) and other low-fat sources should be eaten first. These should comprise at least half the volume of the meal eaten. Foods should be cooked without fat and seasoned to taste. Avoid sauces, gravies, butter, margarine, mayonnaise and junk foods.
- Never eat between meals.
- Drink 2-3 quarts or more of water each day. Water must be consumed slowly, 1-2 mouthfuls at a time, due to the restrictive effect of the operation.
- Exercise aerobically every day for at least 20 minutes (one-mile brisk walk, bike riding, stair climbing, etc.). Weight/resistance exercise can be added 3-4 days per week, as instructed by your doctor.
When can I go back to work?
Your ability to resume pre-surgery levels of activity will vary according to your physical condition, the nature of the activity and the type of weight loss surgery you had. Band surgeries most often return to work within a week, and gastric bypass and sleeve gastrectomy patients return to full pre-surgery levels within 3-4 weeks. More extensive surgery or open incision gastric bypass may require approximately six weeks to return to full pre-surgery levels of activity.
What's so important about exercise?
When you have a weight loss surgery procedure, you lose weight because the amount of food energy (calories) you are able to eat is much less than your body needs to operate. It has to make up the difference by burning reserves or unused tissues. Your body will tend to burn any unused muscle before it begins to burn the fat it has saved up. If you do not exercise daily, your body will consume your unused muscle, and you will lose muscle mass and strength. Daily aerobic exercise for 20 minutes will communicate to your body that you want to use your muscles and force it to burn the fat instead.
What is the right amount of exercise after weight loss surgery?
Many patients are hesitant about exercising after surgery, but exercise is an essential component of success after surgery. Exercise actually begins on the afternoon of weight loss surgery - the patient must be out of bed and walking. The goal is to walk further on the next day, and progressively further every day after that, including the first few weeks at home. Patients are often released from medical restrictions and encouraged to begin exercising about two weeks after surgery, limited only by the level of wound discomfort. The type of exercise is dictated by the patient's overall condition. Some patients who have severe knee problems can't walk well, but may be able to swim or bicycle. Many patients begin with low stress forms of exercise and are encouraged to progress to more vigorous activity when they are able.
Can I get pregnant after weight loss surgery?
It is strongly recommended that women wait at least one year after the surgery before a pregnancy. Approximately one year post-operatively, your body will be fairly stable (from a weight and nutrition standpoint) and you should be able to carry a normally nourished fetus. You should consult your surgeon as you plan for pregnancy.
What if I have had a previous weight loss surgical procedure and I'm now having problems?
Contact your original surgeon - he or she is most familiar with your medical history and can make recommendations based on knowledge of your surgical procedure and body.
What happens to the lower part of the stomach that is bypassed? (re: gastric bypass or sleeve gastrectomy)
In some Roux-en-Y gastric bypass procedure, the stomach is left in place with intact blood supply. In some cases it may shrink a bit and its lining (the mucosa) may atrophy, but for the most part it remains unchanged. The lower stomach still contributes to the function of the intestines even though it does not receive or process food - it makes intrinsic factor, necessary to absorb Vitamin B12 and contributes to hormone balance and motility of the intestines in ways that are not entirely known. In the sleeve gastrectomy procedure, some portion of the stomach is completely removed.
How big will my stomach pouch really be in the long run?
This can vary by surgical procedure and bariatric surgeon. In the Roux-en-Y gastric bypass, the stomach pouch is created at one ounce or less in size (15-20cc). In the first few months it is rather stiff due to natural surgical inflammation. About 6-12 months after surgery, the stomach pouch can expand slightly, and patients end up with a meal capacity of 3-7 ounces.
What will the staples do inside my abdomen? Is it okay in the future to have an MRI test? Will I set off metal detectors in airports?
The staples used on the stomach and the intestines are very tiny in comparison to the staples you will have in your skin or staples you use in the office. Each staple is a tiny piece of stainless steel or titanium so small it is hard to see other than as a tiny bright spot. Because the metals used (titanium or stainless steel) are inert in the body, most people are not allergic to staples and they usually do not cause any problems in the long run. The staple materials are also non-magnetic, which means that they will not be affected by MRI. The staples will not set off airport metal detectors.
Is there any difficulty in taking medications?
Initially, most medications will be taken in liquid form or crushed. Your surgeon will advise you when you may take whole pills.
Is there a difference in the outcome of weight loss surgery between men and women?
Both men and women generally respond well to this surgery. In general, men lose weight slightly faster than women do.
Will I be asked to stop smoking?
Patients must stop smoking at least two months before surgery. Smoking increases the risk of lung problems after surgery, can reduce the rate of healing, increases the rates of infection, and interferes with blood supply to the healing tissues.
What can I do to prevent lots of excess hanging skin?
Many people heavy enough to meet the surgical criteria for weight loss surgery have stretched their skin beyond the point from which it can "snap back." Some patients will choose to have plastic surgery to remove loose or excess skin after they have lost their excess weight. Insurance generally does not pay for this type of surgery (often seen as elective surgery). However, some do pay for certain types of surgery to remove excess skin when complications arise from these excess skin folds. Ask your surgeon about your need for a skin removal procedure.
Will exercise help with excess hanging skin?
Exercise is good in so many other ways that a regular exercise program is recommended. Unfortunately, most patients may still be left with large flaps of loose skin.
Will I be miserably hungry after weight loss surgery since I'm not eating much?
Most patients say no. In fact, for the first 4-6 weeks, many patients have almost no appetite. Over the next several months the appetite returns, but it tends not to be a ravenous "eat everything in the cupboard" type of hunger. For adjustable gastric band surgeries, the reduction in hunger is more gradual and occurs from "fills" to reduce the size of the outlet of the smaller stomach portion.
What if I am really hungry?
This is usually caused by the types of food you may be consuming, especially starches (rice, pasta, potatoes). Be absolutely sure not to drink liquid with food since liquid washes food out of the pouch.
Will I have to change my medications?
Your doctor will determine whether medications for blood pressure, diabetes, etc., can be stopped when the conditions for which they are taken improve or resolve after weight loss surgery. For meds that need to be continued, the vast majority can be swallowed, absorbed and work the same as before weight loss surgery. Usually no change in dose is required. Two classes of medications that should be used only in consultation with your surgeon are diuretics (fluid pills) and NSAIDs (most over-the-counter pain medicines). NSAIDs (ibuprofen, naproxen, etc.) may create ulcers in the small pouch or the attached bowel. Most diuretic medicines make the kidneys lose potassium. With the dramatically reduced intake experienced by most weight loss surgery patients, they are not able to take in enough potassium from food to compensate. When potassium levels get too low, it can lead to fatal heart problems.
What is a hernia and what is the probability of an abdominal hernia after surgery?
A hernia is a weakness in the muscle wall through which an organ (usually small bowel) can advance. With the use of laparoscopic surgery, incisions made are much smaller than traditional open surgery and the risk of hernias is reduced.
Is blood transfusion required?
Infrequently: If needed, it is given after surgery to promote healing.
What is phlebitis and is it preventable?
Undesired blood clotting in veins, especially of the calf and pelvis. It is not completely preventable, but preventive measures will be taken, including:
- Early ambulation
- Special stockings
- Blood thinners
- Pulsatile boots
Will I lose hair after weight loss surgery? How can I prevent it?
Many patients experience some hair loss or thinning after surgery. This usually occurs between two to six months after surgery. Consistent intake of protein at mealtime is the most important prevention method. Also recommended are a daily multi-vitamin with minerals. Your surgeon will monitor nutritional labs for early identification of any nutritional deficiencies. Most patients experience natural hair regrowth after the initial period of loss.
What are adhesions and do they form after this surgery?
Adhesions are scar tissues formed inside the abdomen after surgery or injury. Adhesions can form with any surgery in the abdomen. For most patients, these are not extensive enough to cause problems.
What is sleep apnea (SA)?
It is the interruption of the normal sleep pattern associated with repeated delays in breathing. Sleep apnea often shows rapid improvement after surgery. In most patients, there is a complete resolution of symptoms by six months following surgery.
Are support groups available?
The widespread use of support groups has provided weight loss surgery patients an excellent opportunity to discuss their various personal and professional issues. Most learn, for example, that weight loss surgery will not immediately resolve existing emotional issues or heal the years of damage that morbid obesity might have inflicted on their emotional well-being. Ongoing post-surgical support helps product the greatest level of success for their patients.
We hold monthly support group meetings which address the needs of preoperative and postoperative patients. In addition, nutritional support groups and behavioral aftercare lifestyle programs are available on an ongoing basis. Learn more.
How long will I be off of solid foods after weight loss surgery?
Most bariatric surgeons recommend a period of four weeks or more without solid foods after weight loss surgery. A liquid diet, followed by semi-solid foods or pureed foods, may be recommended for a period of time until adequate healing has occurred. Your surgeon will provide you with specific dietary guidelines for the best post-surgical outcome.
What are the best choices of protein?
Eggs, low-fat cheese, low-fat cottage cheese, tofu, fish, other seafood, chicken (dark meat), turkey (dark meat).
Why drink so much water?
When you are losing weight, there are many waste products to eliminate, mostly in the urine. Some of these substances tend to form crystals, which can cause kidney stones. A high water intake protects you and helps your body to rid itself of waste products efficiently, promoting better weight loss. Water also fills your stomach and helps to prolong and intensify your sense of satisfaction with food. If you feel a desire to eat between meals, it may be because you did not drink enough water in the hour before.
What is Dumping Syndrome? (gastric bypass only)
Eating sugars or other foods containing many small particles when you have an empty stomach can cause dumping syndrome in patients who have had a gastric bypass. Your body handles these small particles by diluting them with water, which reduces blood volume and causes a shock-like state. Sugar may also induce insulin shock due to the altered physiology of your intestinal tract. The result is a very unpleasant feeling: you break out in a cold clammy sweat, turn pale, feel "butterflies" in your stomach, and have a pounding pulse. Cramps and diarrhea may follow. This state can last for 30-60 minutes and can be quite uncomfortable - you may have to lie down until it goes away. This syndrome can be avoided by not eating the foods that cause it, especially on an empty stomach. A small amount of sweets, such as fruit, can sometimes be well tolerated at the end of a meal.
Is there a problem with consuming milk products?
Milk contains lactose (milk sugar), which is not well digested. This sugar passes through undigested until bacteria in the lower bowel act on it, producing irritating byproducts as well as gas. Depending on individual tolerance, some persons find even the smallest amount of milk can cause cramps, gas and diarrhea.
Why can't I snack between meals?
Snacking, nibbling or grazing on foods, usually high-calorie and high-fat foods, can add hundreds of calories a day to your intake, defeating the restrictive effect of your operation. Snacking will slow down your weight loss and can lead to regain of weight.
Why can't I eat red meat after surgery?
You can, but you will need to be very careful, and we recommend that you avoid it for the first several months. Red meats contain a high level of meat fibers (gristle) which hold the piece of meat together, preventing you from separating it into small parts when you chew. The gristle can plug the outlet of your stomach pouch and prevent anything from passing through, a condition that is very uncomfortable.
How can I be sure I am eating enough protein?
60 to 70 grams a day are generally sufficient. Check with your surgeon to determine the right amount for your type of surgery.
Is there any restriction of salt intake?
No, your salt intake will be unchanged unless otherwise instructed by your primary care physician.
Will I be able to eat "spicy" foods or seasoned foods?
Most patients are able to enjoy a wide variety of foods, including spices.
Will I be allowed to drink alcohol?
No matter which bariatric surgery you have, you will find that even small amounts of alcohol will affect you quickly. CAUTION for Gastric Bypass Patients: You will process alcohol into your system much more rapidly than before surgery and can have higher blood alcohol levels with less intake. It is suggested that you drink no alcohol for the first year.
What vitamins will I need to take?
You will need to take a daily multivitamin for the rest of your life. B12 may also need to be taken orally or sublingually (under the tongue) by many patients and calcium supplementation and vitamin D is recommended to help prevent bone calcium loss. Other supplements may be prescribed by your surgeon.
Do I meet with a nutritionist before and after surgery?
Patients are required to consult with a nutritionist before surgery. Counseling after surgery is available on an individual basis as needed or required by your physician.
Will I get a copy of suggested eating patterns and food choices after surgery?
You will be provided with materials that clearly outline their expectations regarding diet and compliance to guidelines for the best outcome based on your surgical procedure. After surgery, health and weight loss are highly dependent on patient compliance with these guidelines. You must do your part by restricting high-calorie foods, by avoiding sugar, snacks and fats, and by strictly following the guidelines set by your surgeon.
What is the youngest age for which weight loss surgery is recommended?
Generally accepted guidelines from the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery and the National Institutes of Health indicate surgery only for those 18 years of age and older. Surgery has been performed on patients 16 and younger. There is a real concern that young patients may not have reached full developmental or emotional maturity to make this type of decision. It is important that young weight loss surgery patients have a full understanding of the lifelong commitment to the altered eating and lifestyle changes necessary for success.
What is the oldest age for whom weight loss surgery is recommended?
Programs differ in their age limit for performng weight loss surgery. We believe that surgery can be safely performed on idvividuals over the age of 65. Adjustable gastric banding is often the preferred surgery due to the decreased surgical risks. Your surgeon will discuss your individual options with you. Our Senior Weight Loss Surgery Program is geared toward helping you achieve your weight goals while reducing the risks related to surgery. Ask your doctor for more information.
Can Weight Loss Surgery prolong my life?
There is good evidence from scientific research that if you have Type 2 diabetes (or other serious obesity-related health conditions), are at least 100 lbs. over ideal body weight, and are able to comply with lifestyle changes (daily exercise and low-fat diet), then weight loss surgery may significantly prolong your life.