Guide to weight loss surgery

Losing weight is never easy and obesity is a growing problem in the UK. But while surgery might seem like a quick fix, it's important to know what's involved and whether surgery is really the right way to go.

Woman with surgeon's marks on her stomach

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There are several options when it comes to weight loss surgery, some more serious than others, but if your weight is endangering your health they may be worth considering.

Highly effective is the gastric band method. The band is placed around the stomach, via keyhole surgery, dividing it into two parts. This limits the amount of food you feel comfortable eating and, on average, patients can expect to lose around half a stone each month with this method.

Though the procedure is easily reversible, it's worth remembering that it may take some time to adjust the band to the correct level of restriction and each adjustment will need to be done in hospital.

Similarly a gastric bypass divides the stomach but uses a stapler rather than an adjustable band and involves altering the mechanics of the stomach so that food passes through a grafted section of the small intestine.

The success rate is good with many losing around 70 per cent of their excess weight within two years of surgery but recovery from the operation can take up to six weeks and, unlike the band, it is not so easily reversible.

Alternatively a gastric balloon may offer a better solution, though it is usually offered to those with a BMI of 30 or more. The soft, silicon balloon is inserted into the stomach and filled with saline, making you feel fuller, quicker. The procedure itself is relatively simple and patients are often able to go home the same day.

It is usually combined with a weight loss programme involving both doctors and dieticians and the balloon is removed after six months.

A more serious operation is the sleeve gastrectomy. This procedure permanently removes part of the stomach, thereby reducing its size by about 75 per cent. It may have fewer side effects than the bypass because the mechanics of the stomach remain unaltered but it is not reversible and is considered a major operation.

The duodenal switch is also a complicated procedure. A partial gastrectomy restricts the stomach while the small intestine is also rearranged to separate the flow of food from that of bile and pancreatic juices. In this way, it inhibits the absorption of calories.

Not to undertaken lightly, the operation can take up to four hours but many lose around 70 per cent of their excess weight as a result.

The term 'tummy tuck' will be familiar to many. A major surgical procedure, the operation removes excess fat and skin whilst tightening the muscles of the abdominal wall. The result is a flatter stomach and this type of surgery is particularly popular with mothers struggling to regain their figure.

However, it is not recommended for those hoping to get pregnant in the future as the muscles can separate, and the operation does leave a permanent scar.

If, on the other hand, you are looking to target specific areas, liposuction may be the answer. Using a small tube called a cannula, the operation can remove up to 10 pounds of fat from hips, thighs and abdomen or other areas.

Though the resulting swelling and bruising are usually gone within a month, you will still need to stick to a healthy diet and get regular exercise to prevent the lost pounds finding their way back.

There is no denying that a proper diet and regular exercise are the best and healthiest way to lose weight. But if you are considering taking more drastic action, it is worth discussing the options with your doctor who can advise on the best, and safest, procedure for you.