It is already well-established that obesity has become a problem of epidemic proportions over the past few decades, especially in first-world countries like the United States. This extensive problem has created and sustained many billion-dollar industries that claim to combat the condition, yet obesity is still on the rise in the U.S. While many people have shed unwanted pounds using classic diet and exercise programs there are still those whose conditions are beyond these simple interventions. Bariatric surgery has been a god-send for many morbidly obese people requiring immediate interventions. These procedures limit space in the patient’s stomach to prevent the individual from overeating. Basically the storage capacity of stomach organ is reduced significantly so that the patient must limit food intake. Gastric bypass and stomach stapling procedures have been used successfully for more than 30 years, but these invasive operations have remained risky despite advances in techniques and tools. Gastric band surgery was introduced in the 1980’s as a safer alternative, and in the early 1990’s the introduction of Lap-Band surgery, which is performed by laparoscopic incision, made great strides in the safety and efficacy of these procedures. In fact, Lap-Band surgery is one of the safest bariatric procedures, and it is currently the only one approved for weight management by the FDA.
Lap-Band Surgery Pros and Cons
Laparoscopic surgery is often a desirable choice for both doctors and patients since it is much less invasive than traditional open surgery. The surgeon makes small incisions near or in the navel to use as “ports” for surgical instruments and a tiny camera that will act as “eyes” for the surgeon. The objective of the surgery is to place a flexible band around the top portion of the individual’s stomach. The doctor also secures an access port through which he or she will adjust the band’s tightness using a sterile saline mixture. The saline is usually injected about six weeks after the procedure, and post-surgery adjustments will be necessary to assist with the patient’s weight management program. Some of the most attractive “pros” for using Lap-band are:
- Shorter recovery time, hospital stay
- Less pain
- Less scarring
- Does not interfere with nutrient absorption (a problem with gastric stapling or cutting)
- On average, the stomach capacity is reduced from 6 cups to ½ cup (depends upon adjustment)
- FDA approved since 2001
While laparoscopic surgery is a safer alternative, there are still Lap-Band complications of which one must be aware. The patient will be screened for suitability prior to the surgery, but this will not always prevent adverse events such as:
- Ulcers, irritated stomach lining
- Band may erode through the stomach wall (a surgical emergency)
- Band may slip out of place (requires surgery to correct)
- Poor positioning of the band (reduces efficacy)
- Infection, internal bleeding, poor healing at the access port
There are even more serious Lap-Band surgery risks that doctors try to prevent by screening a patient thoroughly before scheduling his or her operation. Some patients may not be candidates for Lap-band due to health factors or previous surgeries. Some of the health issues that preclude using this procedure are:
- Gastrointestinal or esophageal disorders or diseases
- Heart or lung disease, cirrhosis, pancreatitis
- Drug or alcohol dependency
- Autoimmune disorders involving connective tissue (i.e, Schleroderma, Lupus)
- Allergies or infections
To qualify for Lap-Band surgery a patient must have at least a five-year history of being 30 pounds overweight or heavier and free of any underlying disease causing the obesity. Only legal adults (18 years or older) without disqualifying conditions may have the procedure. Women who are pregnant may not have the surgery, but it is safe to get pregnant after the surgery since the doctor can adjust the band as needed.
The best way to find out how much this procedure will cost is to consult a certified Lap-Band surgeon. There is no standard set price because the procedure and care plan will vary according to the individual’s needs and situation. Medicare or private insurance may cover at least a portion of the costs, but one should research these options carefully. When asking for an estimate, one should make sure that it includes post-surgical care and follow-up visits and adjustments.
Bariatric surgery has answered the prayers of many dangerously obese people, allowing them to take control of their health and lifestyles. For this reason, procedures like the Lap-Band surgery can be considered life-saving interventions. While laparoscopic procedures have fewer risks, complications are still possible. For this reason, one should weigh the possible benefits against these risks and research his or her options thoroughly to make the best and most-informed decision.