Obesity Resource Center

Obesity Procedures

Surgical Options for Weight Loss: Risks and Benefits

From a numbers point of view, losing weight seems to be getting harder and harder for many Americans. Our lifestyles, diets, and the conflicting amount of information on what we should eat or not eat has perplexed our nation to a large degree. It’s no wonder that many are looking to procedures such as Bariatric Surgery or Liposuction as viable solutions. Each option has been touted for rapid weight loss results by clients, but there are significant considerations far as safety, methodology, and recovery times are concerned. Let’s take a look at the most common surgical options to assess their risks and benefits.



 Liposuction surgery utilizes a suction technique that removes fat from targeted areas of the body. Most liposuction procedures target areas where fat loss might be more difficult, such as the abdomen, arms, thighs, hips, buttocks, or neck areas. Weight loss is normally considered a byproduct of liposuction since it’s most likely to be performed on people who are within a normal weight range or might be slightly overweight, as aesthetics and contouring tends to be its main purpose. Quite often, additional cosmetic procedures are performed along with liposuction such as breast lifts, tummy tucks or plastic surgeries of some kind to achieve a desired look.

Who qualifies for a Liposuction procedure?

Since liposuction is more cosmetic and less weight loss oriented, doctors recommend that patients be within 30% of their normal or ideal weight range. Obese patients are not typically qualified for liposuction given its risks and inability to contour properly due to excess skin. Liposuction patients need to be within a normal weight range so that skin remains firm and can heal into place after the procedure. Individuals with heart disease, high blood pressure, or are smokers do not make good candidates for liposuction.

Potential Risks of Liposuction

Internal bleeding or organ puncture – Cannulas are long tubes that are used to siphon fatty tissue from the body during liposuction. A cannula that is inserted too deeply or haphazardly can puncture or damage an internal organ or artery causing serious complications such as hemorrhaging, and potentially fatal consequences. Using laser assisted liposuction may significantly decrease these risks.

Fat embolisms – Fat embolisms occur when fat globules are released into the bloodstream. Liposuction increases the risk of runaway pieces of fat becoming lodged in blood vessels which can travel to the organs, heart, lungs, or the brain.

Pockets of fluid – Fluid accumulation can form underneath the skin requiring drainage with a needle.

Bumpy or uneven skin – In some instances, fat removal might result in uneven skin in the form of lumps and poor healing. Swelling in areas is common after liposuction, however if lumps remain after the healing period has been completed, they may become permanent.

Infections – Post-surgery infections are always a possibility after any surgery. Liposuction can cause skin infections or an infection in the wound areas. Following the doctor’s instructions for proper cleansing of the site post-surgery is necessary to avoid complications.

  • Other possible complications include:
  • Numbness that may become permanent
  • Kidney problems
  • Heart problems
  • Allergic reactions to Lidocaine, anesthesia, or suction tools

Liposuction as a short-term solution

Liposuction is an attractive procedure for many to remove stubborn fat due to aging, childbirth, poor diet, and a number of other factors. However, liposuction cannot address the underlying causes of slow weight loss or even weight gain which may include poor metabolic function, an unhealthy diet, emotional eating habits, high insulin and blood sugar levels, high sodium intake, and more. Liposuction is not a long term solution for weight loss as poor habits and less than optimal health can eventually negate initial results.

Given the risks that liposuction procedures pose and its reputation as a quick, short-term solution, transitioning to a healthy and active lifestyle guided by medical weight loss professionals can provide a more comprehensive and longer lasting result (without the potential for health complications).


Bariatric Surgery

Bariatric surgery is a procedure performed on the stomach or intestines in order to produce rapid weight loss, as well as decreasing risks for common weight related conditions such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, and others. Bariatric surgery is more geared toward patients whose body mass indexes range in the obesity category from 30-40 BMI than those who are just a bit overweight. Surgical weight loss procedures are effective but risky and include different options such as Gastric Bypass, Sleeve Gastrectomy, and Gastric Banding. Each procedure has its own benefits and drawbacks, while one may suit a particular case better than the other.


Gastric Bypass

A gastric bypass is the process of making your stomach smaller by removing a section of the intestines and rerouting what you digest into a smaller section. In more extensive cases, a surgeon removes the lower part of the stomach and connects a small pouch directly to the small intestine. As a result of bypassing a portion of your digestive system, patients feel you feel full much sooner while eating, prompting them to consume much less food.

Some potential risks associated with receiving a Gastric Bypass include:

  • Bowel obstruction
  • Infection
  • Dumping syndrome, causing diarrhea, nausea or vomiting
  • Blood clots
  • Gallstones
  • Hernias
  • Internal bleeding
  • Low blood sugar
  • Malnutrition
  • Stomach perforation (breaking open of the stomach)
  • Ulcers

There are also several reports stating that the benefits of surgical weight loss are limited to a five-year period. So, if you’re interested in this option, maintaining a healthy lifestyle will be key to keeping weight rebounds at bay.

Sleeve Gastrectomy

Is a laparoscopic procedure that inserts instruments through small incisions in the upper abdomen. A surgeon will remove a section of your stomach and suture the remaining portions together to make a smaller, sleeve like stomach. This leaves patients with a much smaller stomach (about 80-90 percent smaller), to stimulate quick feelings of fullness and an inability to eat as much as before. This procedure may also include the removal of a section of the stomach that produces a hormone which stimulates appetite.

Potential Risks of Sleeve Gastrectomy:

  • Excessive Bleeding
  • Infection
  • Low Nutrient Absorption
  • GI Issues (Constipation, Nausea, Vomiting)
  • Blood Clots
  • Acid Reflux
  • Leaks

Gastric Banding

Laparoscopic gastric banding occurs when a surgeon places a band around the upper part of your stomach to create a small pouch where food is held. A gastric band puts limitations on the amount of food an individual can consume just like other weight loss procedures. The band can be adjusted post-surgery to make food pass at an adjusted pace throughout your stomach.

Risks of Gastric Banding:

  • Blood loss
  • Infection
  • Blood clots
  • Gastritis
  • Poor nutrient absorption/Malnutrition
  • Bowel blockage


Medical Weight Loss as an Effective and Safer Alternative

The most common reason that Americans opt for weight loss surgery is due to the constant inability to adhere to diet restrictions. This isn’t necessarily the fault of the dieter, as most diets offer little to no insight into the real cause of weight gain. After all, outlining a way to lose weight is the easy part! It’s the long-term weight maintenance part that most of us struggle with. By not addressing the underlying causes of weight gain, whether it be emotional, habitual, or stress related, these weight loss surgery procedures do not acknowledge each dieter’s unique challenges and are likely to result weight gained down the road.

Anyone considering weight loss surgery is an ideal candidate for medical weight loss since it tackles the main factors responsible for weight gain in the first place. This is where medical weight loss programs like DockTalkGo can best determine the root causes of overeating. In fact, studies show that those who lose weight steadily (1-2 pounds per week) are more successful at keeping weight off long term, and a doctor-supervised program with one-on-one coaching is the best strategy to achieve this goal.

So which is better?

With all methods patients can eliminate fat quickly but for many patients, opting for weight loss surgery may be a temporary solution that masks the individual’s intrinsic emotional relationship to food. Medical weight loss on the other hand, identifies bad habits, implements lifestyle changes and develops ongoing solutions that support long term fat loss and weight maintenance.

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