Gastric Bypass: Is Weight Loss Surgery Safe for Teens?

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Weight loss surgery may be an option for severely overweight teens with certain medical problems when conventional weight loss measures fail.

Being overweight at any age is tough. But growing up heavy is especially trying. Having poor self-esteem, a lack of confidence, and being isolated or even bullied can lead teens to destructive behavior. The choices teens make during these years can set up lifelong habits that can mean the difference between a life of health or hurt.

A healthy diet, regular exercise, and a hefty dose of support are a good foundation to help teens reach a healthy weight. But sometimes, it's not enough. If traditional weight loss measures fall short, and your teen is severely overweight and has related health issues, gastric bypass surgery may be an option.

Before being eligible for gastric bypass surgery, the teen must understand the risks and benefits of surgery and the lifestyle changes needed following surgery

Weight loss surgery basics
Weight loss (bariatric) surgery is a major operation that can help some people get to a healthy weight. The Roux-en Y procedure is considered safe and effective for extremely obese adolescents. Other surgeries, such as the adjustable gastric band, are not approved for teens Roux-en-Y surgery works by:

  • Reducing the size of the stomach and the amount of food it can hold.
  • Rerouting part of the digestive system. Food bypasses the part of the small intestine (duodenum) where most calories are absorbed.

People who have this surgery often lose a substantial amount of weight. And this weight loss is likely to stand the test of time. Weight stays off because people either can't eat as much as they used to, and/or their bodies can't absorb as many calories.

For a young adult, bariatric surgery could help stave off a lifetime of serious disease. While there are always risks with surgery, having surgery at a younger age before serious disease sets in may be less risky overall. It is important to weigh the benefits and risks of surgery for each individual.

This surgery may improve weight-related health conditions, such as:

  • High cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Sleep apnea
  • Fatty liver disease
  • Psychological and social issues as a result of being overweight

Most people will need to see a doctor regularly after the surgery, especially during the first year when complications are more likely.

An option for teens?
Weight loss surgery may be an option for a select group of children.

Doctors may consider weight loss surgery for teens who have a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or higher and have:

  • Serious weight-related health problems- such as type 2 diabetes or obstructive sleep apnea - that will likely get better with weight loss.
  • Tried for at least 6 months to lose weight with an organized weight loss program and have failed.
  • Finished growing. This is usually around age 13 for girls and age 15 for boys. Your child's doctor can often tell if your child's bones have finished growing by performing a physical exam. An x-ray of the hand and wrist may also be taken.

If you think the procedure can help your teen, be sure to look for a weight loss surgery center that has a lot of experience working with adolescents. Your child's doctor may be able to suggest one.

Even if your teen meets all of these criteria, only a doctor can determine if weight loss surgery is a good choice for your child. Doctors look at each candidate individually, and also take into account:

  • A psychological exam. Teens must fully understand the risks involved with the procedure and give their consent. They'll also need adequate coping skills to get through the operation and recovery.
  • The family members. The medical team may interview you as well. A positive family environment can go a long way in supporting a teen after weight loss surgery.
  • If the teen knows the procedure isn't a quick fix. Weight loss surgery calls for lifelong changes, like eating much smaller portion sizes. After the surgery, your child will only be able to eat a fraction of the amount of food that he or she was used to. Teens must understand this and be willing to comply with new diet guidelines.

Weighing the risks
Weight loss surgery is often only done as a last resort for weight loss. This is because it's a major operation that comes with risks. Doctors suggest the surgery only when the benefits gained from it outweigh the possible risks. But no surgery is risk-free and complications can occur, including:

  • Infection
  • Intestinal leakage
  • Small bowel obstruction
  • Blood clots
  • Gallstones
  • Hernia or bleeding at the incision site
  • Malnutrition

Everyone considering weight loss surgery should understand that there is a small risk of dying from complications of this surgery. This is risk is around 1 in 100 for the general population. Statistics for teens are not available; however, death rates tend to rise with age.

Note that weight loss surgery is not successful for everyone. About one in 10 people either don't reach a healthy weight or they gain lost weight back later.

The tried and true approach
Experts agree that the best and safest way to reach a healthy weight is through diet and exercise. Even if the traditional weight loss route has not worked for your child in the past, Order alli it may be worth another shot. Ask your child's doctor about weight loss programs or meet with a registered dietitian.

If your child adopts a healthy lifestyle and still cannot goals, weight loss surgery may be an option.