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Surgical Hope for the Obese

Not to look pretty, but to be Healthy

Before I write another sentence, you need to understand that everyone who considers herself to be fat, isn’t obese. Secondly, everyone who’s obese, doesn’t require surgery to reduce weight. This kind of surgery isn’t magic. It isn’t a shortcut to a swelte figure. It’s a medical treatment for certain conditions.

This is not a story about liposuction or cosmetic fat removal. Instead, I’m talking about procedures that prolong and save lives.

How’d you know whether or not you need surgical help? First, figure out whether you’re overweight or obese. What’s the difference? Overweight means when the weight of your muscles, bones, skin, everything is more than required for your age, height and race. What’s race got to do with it? Tamilians, Eskimos, Japanese and Moroccans, all have different builds and metabolism. (Even within India, Punjabis and Assamese people have different physiques.) Obesity, on the other hand, means excessive amount of body fat. Doctors say that men with more than 25 % fat and women with more than 30 % fat are considered obese. Some of these folks might just require surgery.

There are several, really complicated methods to measure obesity. Bariatric surgery experts, Mumbai doctors A. Katara and D. Bhandarkar (who comes from Mumbai to Mapusa to do surgeries) said that the Body Mass Index of a person is first calculated. That’s called the BMI for short, and there’s a simple formula for it.If this Body Mass Index is over 40 (38 in Asians), surgery is a good option. A person with a BMI of 35 (33 for Asians) with other obesity-related diseases will also be a good candidate for surgery, the doctors said.

Obesity runs in families (genetic), and also it happens when the calorie intake is higher than the output. Exercise and diet can help, often radically. People who convert to eating more low fat foods, and incorporate exercise in their daily routine benefit over a period of time. But obesity might also be the result of a malfunctioning thyroid or cysts in the ovary. Or because of steroids.

If a patient has seriously tried all methods of reducing weight, if that weight is likely (oh yes, it will) to cause heart and other organs to overwork, then the doctors might consider surgery, although never as a first option.

If such a treatment is prescribed, you need to know that there are different kinds of surgeries possible. Not the cosmetic kinds where your insides (read fat tissues) are ‘vacuumed’ (liposuction) away to give you a better shape, but of a more serious nature. A traditional method is to open up the insides to get access to the stomach and intestines.

The newer method, say the above doctors, is to do a minimally invasive, laparoscopic, weight-loss surgery. What’s that?

At an obesity support group meeting Dr Bhandarkar explained: “We make five or six holes in the abdomen. These holes are less than ½ inch in diameter. Through these, we insert a scope, like a camera, attached to other instruments. We manipulate this by watching carefully through a monitor….uh, a television screen. We put a band around the entrance to the stomach. This allows lesser amount of food to enter. The patient feels full quickly and eats less. Of course, it isn’t as simple as it sounds, the surgery itself is a complicated one, and the effort the patient has to put in later is VERY, VERY IMPORTANT. We can help. But subsequently, maintaining that lost weight is up to the patient.”

This laparoscopic method reduces much of the complications of regular weight-loss surgery. Within a year, a patient can lose 20-30% of the excess body weight and in the years to follow, if (s)he takes reasonable care, the weight can stabilize with a loss of 50-60% of the excess weight. However, post-surgery, some discipline is required of the patient. For three weeks, (s)he will have to consume liquids. Just liquids. Then followed by two weeks of soft, semi-solid foods. The final food plan will be a measured, low-fat, healthy one. To be adhered to forever.

There are different kinds of surgeries that allow the body to consume or absorb (or both consume and absorb) less food. They are highly effective, if the dos and don’ts are seriously followed. This surgery for obesity is still a new field in India. Until a few years ago, those who needed it, had to go abroad. Now it’s affordable and accessible to those living here. Those suffering (and yes, great suffering it is) from obesity now have hope at their doorstep.