Who Can Get Weight Loss Surgery?

Who Gets Weight Loss Surgery?

Weight loss surgery works, but it’s serious stuff. Doctors usually only recommend it for people who are very overweight and face big medical problems because they can’t lose weight.

People who get weight loss surgery — also called bariatric surgery — have to prepare for the operation, but there’s a lot to do after surgery, too. Patients have to cope with the recovery time and learn to adjust to a whole new way of eating and living. That can be hard. Not everyone is ready for it.

Most doctors only do surgery when they’re sure patients will make the effort to stay healthy for the rest of their lives.

What Makes a Good Patient?

Figuring out who’s a good candidate for weight loss surgery is a big decision. It involves a lot of people: patients, families, doctors, nutritionists, and psychologists.

Teens can only be considered for weight loss surgery if:

  • They have already gone through puberty.
  • They have a body mass index (BMI) of 35 or more as well as serious medical problems caused by weight, like diabetes or sleep apnea.
  • They have a BMI of 40 or greater with less serious medical problems.

Weight and age are just part of it, though. Before someone can get surgery, doctors look at a lot of other things:

  • Is the patient healthy enough for the surgery? Some people who are overweight have health problems that can make weight loss surgery dangerous. Doctors often work with patients to improve their health in the weeks before surgery. This can lower the risks and make the surgery more effective.
  • Is the patient emotionally mature enough for the surgery? Surgery comes with risks, long recovery times, and — sometimes — serious complications. Patients must be prepared to accept and deal with all of these things.
  • Does the patient know what’s involved? The actual surgery is just one step in the weight loss process. What happens after the operation may be even more important than the surgery itself.
  • Is the patient serious about switching to a new way of eating and living after the surgery? People who get weight loss surgery can’t go back to their old way of life. They need to follow a diet plan and exercise every day, take medicines and vitamins, and go to all their medical appointments. If patients can’t do all these things, the surgery alone may not be enough to help them lose weight.
  • Will family members do their part to help make the operation a success? Keeping to a new diet, appointment schedules, and limits on eating can be hard without help. Patients must have supportive family members who can provide the practical and emotional support they need.

Making the Decision

Anyone thinking about weight loss surgery should have several meetings with doctors and psychologists to decide if an operation is the best choice. Sometimes, doctors don’t think a person is ready. Other times, patients and their families decide they’re not there yet.

After hearing the facts about weight loss surgery, some people choose to try traditional weight loss options one more time — like eating better and getting more exercise.

Weight loss surgery is not for everyone. But the effort may be worth it for people whose health is affected by obesity and who are willing to make the commitment to a new way of life.

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: April 2015