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Do I Need to Lose Weight Before Surgery?

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– By Andrea M. Pampaloni,  Ph.D.

Chances are good that at some point in your life you will need surgery. In fact, one study found that Americans have an average of nine surgical procedures in a lifetime. This includes in-patient and out-patient procedures, all of which come with their own risk. For people with obesity, that risk can be high.

There are several reasons why surgery is more complicated on patients with obesity. Because of their increased size, surgical procedures often take a longer amount time, which means the patient is under anesthesia for a longer period. Both of these conditions increase risk. Patients with obesity also experience more blood loss, have more infections, require longer hospital stays and are more likely to be readmitted. To be clear, these aren’t everyday occurrences, but with millions of surgeries happening every month, there is a real risk.

The Importance of a Pre-Surgical Assessment

To minimize risk and complications, it’s important to have a comprehensive, pre-surgical assessment. This is an opportunity for patients to ask the doctor about the procedure so that they know what to expect before, during and after. Some questions to ask are:

  • What, specifically, will be done?
  • What risks are associated with this surgery?
  • How long will I be under anesthesia?
  • How long will I be in the hospital/surgery center/doctor’s office?
  • How long will it take to recover?
  • What, if any, restrictions will I have to follow?
  • Will rehabilitation of some type be necessary
  • When should I schedule a follow-up with the doctor?
  • Would it help if I lost weight prior to surgery?
  • How much weight should I try to lose?

Research repeatedly confirms that discussing presurgical risks and how to minimize them is great way to reduce post-operative problems. For people with obesity, weight loss is one of the preoperative risks to be addressed.

The Benefit of Pre-Surgical Weight Loss

Losing weight before surgery limits the risk after surgery and helps with recovery. Physical activity is also important, especially for people who may have mobility issues, because after surgery there is typically a period when activity will be limited. By “pre-exercising” before a procedure, patients build strength and improve flexibility, which puts them in a better position to regain activity when cleared by the doctor to do so. In other words, a body at rest will stay at rest (and that can increase risk!), but a body in motion is more likely to stay in motion — even if there’s a gap for surgery!

Losing weight is difficult, but not impossible, and preparing for surgery is definitely a situation where prevention is the best solution. Reducing body weight by ten percent offers tremendous health benefits, but even a 15 to 20 pound loss reduces the risk of complications. It will take some discipline, but the benefits are so much greater than the cost that it is worth the effort. You’ll be so glad that you did!


About the Author: Dr. Andrea Pampaloni has over 20 years of communication experience across corporate, academic, nonprofit and government sectors. She provides research and writing services on a range of business issues and industry-specific topics to prepare white papers, articles, proposals, presentations, technical content, and speaking points, as well as marketing-communications content such as blogs, website content, newsletters, news releases and award submissions. Dr. Pampaloni’s research findings have been presented at national and international conferences and published in peer-reviewed journals, and she is a ghostwriter for three books, a Forbes article, and several corporate blogs.

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