Gastric Bypass

Get the skinny on gastric bypass surgery

When diet and exercise are not enough and weight loss programs have failed to produce the right results despite one's best efforts, many morbidly obese people turn to surgery to help them lose weight.

Weight loss surgery is not for everyone, and it should never be a person's first choice, but when extreme amounts of weight must be lost and other methods just aren't working well enough, bariatric surgery may be the answer.

Gastric Bypass Surgery

Perhaps the most common bariatric surgery, a gastric bypass involves dividing the stomach into two pouches—a small upper pouch and a larger lower pouch called the "remnant" pouch—and then reattaching the small intestine in a Y formation so that it connects to both pouches. This allows food to collect in the upper pouch and then enter directly into the intestines, bypassing the larger portion of the stomach, so that the person feels fuller with less food. The resulting weight loss is typically quite dramatic and reduces the incidence of weight-related health problems and morbidity.

These days, gastric bypass surgery is typically performed laparoscopically, meaning that small incisions are made in the abdomen for the surgical tools to enter, as well as for a small video camera that is connected to a screen in the operating room. The surgeon then uses the screen to see what he or she is doing and to perform the surgery. A laparoscopic gastric bypass is much less invasive and provides for faster healing.

Unlike a traditional gastric bypass, a mini gastric bypass reattaches the small intestine in a loop formation rather than in a Y configuration. Because this procedure is less complicated to perform, surgical time—and thus hospitalization time—is often reduced, sometimes to less than 24 hours.

Cost of Gastric Bypass Surgery

Although the cost of gastric bypass surgery has decreased markedly in recent years, it is still rather high, averaging between $20,000 and $40,000. The actual costs vary according to geographic market.

With the obesity epidemic growing and the awareness of obesity-related health problems increasing, many health insurance companies have begun to cover at least part of the cost of gastric bypass and other bariatric surgeries. However, candidates must usually meet rigorous qualification standards—including proof that they've made efforts to lose weight via diets, lifestyle changes or weight loss programs—before being granted gastric bypass insurance coverage.

Gastric Bypass Diet

Because a gastric bypass severely limits the amount of food the stomach can hold, patients must learn to eat slowly, chew well and avoid certain types of food in order to prevent complications.

In general, a gastric bypass diet is high in protein and low in sugar, fat, fiber and calories. Most physicians recommend taking additional vitamin supplements, as well, since the strict eating habits required by gastric bypass often don't provide for enough vitamins and minerals through food alone.

Immediately following gastric bypass surgery, most patients are put on a clear-liquids-only diet. After a few days, if no complications arise, patients progress to a full-liquids-only diet (consisting mainly of commercial meal-replacement shakes) and then to a diet of soft foods before eventually resuming regular eating habits. However, it's important to note that these regular habits are still fairly rigid and often vastly different from the patient's previous "normal" eating habits.