Bariatric surgery has been demonstrated to improve a host of obesity-related comorbidities, but the operation carries a risk of complications that should acknowledged by clinicians and understood by patients, a large cohort study has shown.

Gunn Signe Jakobsen, MD, of Vestfold Hospital Trust, Tønsberg, Norway, and her colleagues wrote in an article published in JAMA , “Few studies report long-term complication rates. … No large-scale clinical practice–based study has compared the long-term association of bariatric surgery and specialized medical obesity treatment with obesity-related somatic and mental comorbidities, nor the irrespective complication rates.”

The investigators compared outcomes from 932 patients who underwent bariatric surgery and 956 who underwent specialized medical treatment that involved either individual or group lifestyle intervention programs. The study population included 1,249 women and 639 men with an average age of 44 years and an average baseline body mass index of 44 kg/m2.

The surgery patients were more likely than the medical treatment patients to have hypertension remission (absolute risk 32% vs. 12%, respectively), and less likely to develop new-onset hypertension (absolute risk 4% vs. 12%, respectively). Diabetes remission was significantly higher among surgery patients, compared with medical treatment patients (58% vs. 13%) as was the likelihood of dyslipidemia remission (43% vs. 13%). Surgery patients also were less likely to develop new-onset diabetes or dyslipidemia than the medical treatment patients.

However, more patients who underwent bariatric surgery had low ferritin levels, compared with the medical treatment patients (26% vs. 12%). The surgery patients were significantly more likely than the medical treatment patients to develop new-onset depression (adjusted relative risk, 1.5; 95% confidence interval, 1.4-1.7), anxiety and sleep disorders (aRR, 1.3; 95% CI, 1.2-1.5), and treatment with opioids (aRR, 1.3; 95% CI, 1.2-1.4). In addition, bariatric patients were more likely to have at least one additional gastrointestinal surgical procedure (aRR, 2.0; 95% CI, 1.7-2.4), an operation for intestinal obstruction (aRR, 10.5; 95% CI, 5.1-21.5), abdominal pain (aRR, 1.9; 95% CI, 1.6-2.3), and gastroduodenal ulcers (aRR, 3.4; 95% CI 2.0-5.6).

The study was limited by several factors, including selection bias of younger, heavier patients in the bariatric surgery group, the lack of data on actual weight loss, incomplete laboratory data, and a relatively homogeneous white population, the researchers noted. However, the nearly 100% follow-up over approximately 6 years adds to the strength of the findings, which suggest that “the risk for complications should be considered in the decision-making process,” for obese patients considering bariatric surgery, they said.

Dr. Jakobsen was supported by the Vestfold Hospital Trust, with no financial conflicts to disclose.

SOURCE: Jakobsen G et al. JAMA. 2018 Jan 16;319(3):291-301 .


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