How bariatric surgery is helping to fight COVID-19
Bariatric surgery, also known as metabolic surgery, is a procedure that has benefits beyond weight loss. It has been shown to reverse medical problems related to obesity. Surgeon Paul Stechschulte, MD, said that because metabolic surgery helps people lead healthier lives, it may also help people recover faster from diseases like COVID-19 as compared to patients who continue to struggle with the disease of obesity.
How bariatric surgery can improve your health
When the anatomy of the gastrointestinal tract is changed, the way your body stores and manages energy changes as well. Dr. Stechschulte said this results in improvement in obesity related conditions. For example, patients have improved control of their diabetes, improved blood pressure, decreased cholesterol, improved sleep and decreased incidence of heart disease.
“Bariatric or metabolic surgery is starting to be recommended for people with lower body weight who have found it difficult to manage conditions like diabetes,” said Dr. Stechschulte.
“Longer term follow-up data is now showing that these metabolic effects and improvements in conditions last for many years.”
Can bariatric surgery protect you from COVID-19?
Dr. Stechschulte said evidence has shown that the COVID-19 pandemic is hitting obese patients harder than the general population. Obesity puts patients at higher risk of more severe COVID-19 infections, as well as a higher risk of dying from the virus. “It is possible that bariatric surgery is protecting patients from severe COVID-19 infections,” said Dr. Stechschulte. There are multiple theories to explain this, including:
- Inflammation related to obesity
- Presence of obesity related medical conditions
- Difficulties in providing ventilator support to obese individuals
- Increased risk for blood clots in obese individuals
He said a recent Cleveland Clinic study compared two groups of patients who tested positive for COVID-19. A group of patients with a history of weight loss after bariatric surgery was compared to a group of obese patients. The study showed that patients with a history of weight loss after bariatric surgery who became infected with COVID-19 had lower rates of hospital and ICU admission than obese patients who became infected with COVID-19.
Specifically, their results showed only 18% of the patients who had previously undergone bariatric surgery required hospitalization compared to 42% of obese patients. In this study, 2.4% of obese patients died from the virus. Zero patients who had previously lost weight after bariatric surgery died.
Dr. Stechschulte acknowledges that the COVID-19 pandemic has been a long and confusing time for patients and healthcare providers. “The pace of scientific discovery to fully understand this virus is slow and there are still many unknowns. The early evidence suggests that bariatric surgery may have a protective role against COVID-19. Add this to the many benefits of participating in a comprehensive bariatric weight management program. By losing weight and changing their lifestyle, many bariatric surgery patients have kept themselves out of the hospital and decreased their risk of severe COVID-19 infection,” said Dr. Stechschulte.
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