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Can Bariatric Surgery Reverse Type 2 Diabetes?



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Diabetes is an epidemic in the United States. Over the last 20 years, the number of people with diabetes has nearly doubled to over nine percent of the population, which means that over 30 million Americans are currently battling the disease. Perhaps even more of a concern is that another 84 million adults are considered pre-diabetic, which means their health statistics show they are right on the cusp of developing the disease.

“Diabetes is a dangerous disease and is the seventh leading cause of death in our country,” said Aley E. Tohamy, M.D., FACS, FASMBS, director of the Crozer Health Comprehensive Bariatric Surgery Program. “Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of the disease, which is frequently caused by excess body fat. This means that in some cases, there are specific strategies we can use to improve the outcome for people who have the disease or halt its development in people who are at risk.”

Medications to help your body become more sensitive to insulin, secret more insulin, or eliminate excess sugar from your blood are all helpful in managing Type 2 diabetes. Regular exercise and a better diet are important parts of the treatment too.

There is increasing evidence that by helping speed weight loss, bariatric surgery may be one of the most powerful tools in the fight against Type 2 diabetes for people who are candidates. In fact, many patients who have the surgery no longer need medication at all to control their diabetes.

Weighing the Risks and Benefits of Bariatric Surgery

Bariatric surgery is not without its risks. Like any surgery, there can be complications and side effects. Since bariatric surgery reduces the size of the stomach using several different surgical techniques, you have to change the way you eat after surgery. You’ll typically be limited to smaller meals that are typically high in protein and lower in fats and alcohol. You may also need to take a multivitamin to ensure you get the right nutrients to keep your body healthy.

“For people who are obese and dealing with Type 2 diabetes, the benefits of the surgery usually far outweigh these risks,” said Dr. Tohamy. “The surgery can help in the battle against obesity, which in turn helps to improve or eliminate your diabetes.”

Without the surgery, the long-term risks of diabetes can harm your health, leading to complications such as vision loss, nerve damage, kidney problems, heart attack, and stroke.

Are You a Candidate?

You may be a candidate for weight loss surgery if your body mass index (BMI) is too high. Typically, people with a BMI of 40 or more are candidate for weight loss surgery. However, if your BMI is 35 or higher and you have a serious disease such as diabetes.

“We’ll look at every patient as an individual, taking into account their current health, history, and the likely effectiveness of different forms of treatment,” said Dr. Tohamy. “We’ll then formulate a treatment plan that’s right for them, which may include bariatric surgery.”

Your Next Steps

If you are obese and have Type 2 diabetes, it’s time to talk to your doctor about your treatment options. Additionally, if you’re overweight and haven’t had a blood test recently, you should have a check-up to make sure you’re not one of the millions of Americans with undiagnosed diabetes.

Even if you check all the boxes as a candidate for bariatric surgery, you’ll still need to speak with a nutritionist and a psychologist. Together with your doctor, they will ensure that your motivation and mental health make it likely that you’ll reap all of the benefits of surgery.

“Bariatric surgery can be life-changing for the right person who is struggling with excess weight and diabetes,” said Dr. Tohamy. “If you’ve tried and failed to manage your weight and disease through more traditional methods, talk to your doctor to see if surgery could be a good fit for you.”

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