people who are considering weight-loss
surgery should choose their procedure carefully if they hope to be free of
chronic heartburn, a new study suggests.
The study of nearly 39 000
patients found that while traditional gastric bypass procedures reduced
heartburn and acid reflux symptoms in most sufferers, a newer procedure –
called a laparoscopic sleeve gastrectomy – was largely unhelpful for those who
already had gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD.
What's more, about 1 in 11
people who didn't have GERD before sleeve gastrectomy developed the condition
after their procedure.
Read: Weight-loss surgery helps obese patients drop pounds
"The fact that this
surgery is contributing to reflux is a bit of a wake-up call that we need to at
least be a little bit more selective in who is a good candidate for sleeve
gastrectomy," said Dr John Lipham, an associate professor of surgery at
the University of Southern California's Keck School of Medicine in Los Angeles.
He specialises in treating
GERD and diseases of the upper gastrointestinal tract, but was not involved in
the current research.
More on info on GERD
GERD is the backflow of
stomach contents into the oesophagus, the tube that carries food from the mouth
to the stomach. Obesity more than triples the risk for the condition in men,
experts say. Obese women face six times the risk.
The backwash of stomach
acid and other digestive juices causes heartburn and acid reflux, a burning
sensation in the chest and throat. Doctors diagnose GERD when a person has
episodes of heartburn at least twice a week or when symptoms interfere with
The condition isn't merely
uncomfortable. Chronic exposure to stomach acid can change the cells lining the
oesophagus. This can lead to a range of problems from scar tissue that makes it
difficult to swallow to cancer.
"The fact of the
matter is [GERD] is a serious medical condition and it can lead to a lot of
complications," Lipham said.
Read: Weight-loss surgery helps with diabetes
A pouch at the top of the stomach
"Don't get me wrong, I
think the sleeve gastrectomy is a good procedure, but it seems best for
selected patients without a significant GERD history," he added.
For the study, researchers
reviewed the cases of patients who had weight-loss surgery between 2007 and
2010. More than 4 800 patients had sleeve gastrectomies over that period, while
nearly 34 000 had gastric bypass procedures.
In a gastric bypass,
surgeons make a pouch at the top of the stomach that holds about a cup of food.
That pouch is then attached directly to the middle portion of the small
intestine, rerouting food past the first section of the gut.
Sleeve gastrectomy procedure
In a sleeve gastrectomy,
surgeons remove more than 85% of the stomach and shape the remainder into a
sleeve or tube, but they don't alter how the food travels through the gut.
Weight loss with sleeve gastrectomy is generally slower than gastric bypass,
and for some patients, this procedure is the first step before a full bypass.
The average age of patients
in the study was 46. Nearly three-quarters of patients in both groups were
women, and the average body mass index (BMI) for both groups was 48 before
surgery, suggesting that each group had similar amounts of weight to lose.
Before surgery, 45% of the
sleeve gastrectomy group and 50% of the gastric bypass group had GERD.
Read: Weight-loss surgery cuts diabetic's Alzheimer's risk
After the operation
Among those who had sleeve
gastrectomies, nearly 84% of GERD sufferers said they still had symptoms six
months or more after their procedures, while 16% said their symptoms had
resolved. Nine percent said their symptoms got worse, the study found.
After gastric bypass,
however, 63% of GERD sufferers saw complete resolution of their symptoms at
least six months after surgery. GERD symptoms stabilised in 18% of patients,
while 2.2% saw their symptoms worsen.
What's more, within the
group that went into surgery untroubled by heartburn, 9% developed GERD after
their sleeve gastrectomy.
GERD after weight-loss
surgery was linked to having more complications overall. And for sleeve
gastrectomy patients, it was also linked to the failure to lose at least 50% of
body weight over the next year.
isn't one-operation-fits-all. It really needs to be tailored to the
patient," said study author Dr. Matthew Martin, a surgeon at Madigan Army
Medical Centre in Tacoma, Washington.
Symptoms after surgery
Martin said shape probably
accounted for the differences in GERD symptoms after surgery. With the sleeve,
the stomach becomes a tube, which offers more resistance to food passing
through than the rounder pouch created by the bypass.
"Somebody who has
significant reflux symptoms, or GERD, a sleeve may not be the best option for
them, and it's certainly something that needs to be discussed before
surgery," he said.
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