Questions People Often Ask about Weight Loss Surgery

Am I a candidate for weight loss surgery?

Weight loss surgery is serious business. It is intended as an option for people who are seriously and/or morbidly obese. It is not a cosmetic procedure. You are considered severely obese and therefore a candidate for weight loss surgery if you have a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or more and are about 100 pounds overweight for men and 80 pounds for women.

Patients at high risk from obesity-related heart disease, diabetes or severe sleep apnea with a BMI between 35 and 40 may also benefit from weight loss surgery. For patients who remain severely obese after non-surgical approaches to weight loss have failed, or for patients who have an obesity-related disease, surgery may be an appropriate treatment option.

But for most patients, greater efforts toward weight control, such as changes in eating habits, lifestyle changes, and increasing physical activity, are more appropriate.

What should I expect after weight loss surgery?

Weight loss surgery is a genuine life-changing experience. Changes in your life may include the ability to fully perform day-to-day activities, the reduction of your risk of disease, the possible resolution of some medical conditions.

At the same time, it's important to have realistic expectations. Generally speaking, weight loss surgery will help you lose a significant amount of weight. It will also help reduce your risk of life-threatening conditions and improve your overall health and appearance.

The results may change the way others interact with you. These changes should improve your quality of life; however, the surgery alone is often not enough to turn your life around.

Significant behavior modifications, and even a variety of additional procedures, may be necessary (for example, additional surgical procedures to remove excess skin, lift sagging body areas, improve loose muscles or treat fat deposits, etc.)

Learn more about the health effects of weight loss surgery.

What is the recovery process like?

Every person is different, but weight loss surgery is major surgery. Before you leave the hospital after surgery, you will be asked to stand up and move around a bit. You will also be directed to try to walk around the house several times throughout each day, over the course of your recovery.

It is important to remember that you will require assistance leaving the hospital and at home for a period of time after surgery. Everyone recovers at a different rate: some people require assistance for a day or so, but others need help for several weeks. The type of assistance you will need includes driving you home from the hospital and driving you for a few days or weeks after that. It also includes meal preparation, medication assistance and dressing.

The type of pain management program you and your surgeon select may also impact the duration and severity of the recovery period. If you receive local anesthesia, you may require less assistance, and for a shorter duration, than if you have general anesthesia or require narcotic pain management.

Patients can usually drive within two weeks after surgery and can return to normal activities within six to eight weeks. These times may vary, depending on the type of surgery, your general health and the type of activities you performed before surgery, and again, everyone is different.

Beyond the surgical recovery, life after weight loss surgery requires a drastic change in lifestyle, including altering how you eat, what you eat and when you eat because of the changes made to your stomach during your surgery. Your new life after surgery also involves other important changes, such as engaging in regular exercise and potentially undergoing follow-up surgeries to remove excess skin and fat.

Recovery also requires both a short-term plan and a long-term plan. To manage the effects of morbid obesity and weight loss surgery, your postoperative treatment plan may involve several different types of health care professionals, who will work together to help you improve your overall health and make a smooth transition to new day-to-day activities.

Is weight loss surgery covered by insurance?

Every insurance company and plan is different, and insurance coverage for weight loss surgery varies by state and insurance provider. If you are considering weight loss surgery, the first step is to contact your insurance plan to find out if the procedure is covered and what, if any, caveats may exist.

For example, while some insurers may foot the entire bill, many public or private insurance companies that cover weight loss surgery will pay 80 percent of what is considered the "usual and customary" for the surgery, as determined by the insurance company. Further, many private insurers require a letter of medical necessity from a doctor before they agree to pay for weight loss surgery. Again, check with your specific insurance provider.

Is weight loss surgery covered by Medicare?

With Medicare in flux in concert with the Congressional debate on healthcare, the only certain answer is to check with your local Medicare provider.

Generally speaking, Medicare will cover three types of weight loss surgery: Roux-en-Y bypass; Open and Laparoscopic billopancreatic diversions and Laparoscopic adjustable gastric banding. Further, Medicare does not require that potential weight loss surgery candidates first attempt a dietary weight loss program, because pretty much all surgery patients have made numerous attempts to lose weight.

Medicare does, however, mandate that the weight loss surgery take place at a medical center designated as a Center of Excellence by the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery or certified a Level 1 Bariatric Surgery Center by the American College of Surgeons. Munroe Regional Medical Center is a designated Center of Excellence by the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery.

That said, these requirements are subject to interpretation by local Medicare intermediaries or carriers. Find out your specific requirements regarding Medicare coverage by contacting your local Medicare provider.

What are the potential complications?

Any major surgery involves the potential for complications - adverse events which increase risk, hospital stay, and mortality. Some complications are common to all abdominal operations, while some are specific to bariatric surgery. A person who chooses to undergo bariatric surgery should know about these risks.

Learn more about the potential complications of abdominal and bariatric surgery.

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