Durham, N.C. — For the 90 million Americans impacted by obesity, bariatric surgery is becoming an increasingly popular option to jump start weight loss.
The procedures are life-saving in many instances, but not just because of the drastic weight loss. Doctors are quickly discovering that weight-loss surgeries can help improve symptoms associated with hypertension, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
After undergoing bariatric surgery in 2007, Priscilla Davis said she noticed the benefits other than weight loss almost immediately.
"I weighed 312 pounds at my highest. When I went to have surgery, I was 288," Davis said. "I had sleep apnea, high blood pressure, diabetes and I slept with a C-Pap machine every night. Now, I'm free of all that."
Duke University Hospital surgeon Dana Portenier said Davis' story is common.
"After we intervened and did a surgical procedure on them, their diabetes went away nearly immediately, even though they hadn't lost a lot of weight," Portenier said.
A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that surgery is significantly more effective than medical therapy alone in controlling diabetes. The drop in weight is linked to a decrease in the hormonal activity that often triggers the development of Type 2 diabetes.
Bariatric procedures are similarly successful in eliminating high blood pressure, Portenier said.
"By the three month mark out from surgery, many patients are completely off their medications," she said.
That was Davis' experience, and it's exactly why she said she chose surgery.
"I didn't really want to get skinny, I wanted to get healthy," she said. "My purpose of the surgery was to be healthy, and now I am."
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently revised the indications for weight loss surgery, specifically using the reverse lap band procedure.
The FDA expanded the criteria to patients with Body Mass Index ratings as low as 30, a change that could impact whether or not insurance companies are willing to cover costs of weight-loss procedures.