Weight Loss FAQ's

Do I qualify for bariatric surgery?

People with a body mass index (BMI) between 30-34 who suffer from comorbid conditions such as heart disease or type 2 diabetes may qualify for some form of bariatric surgery. To learn more about bariatric surgery through COMP, attend a free Bariatric Surgery Information Session.

Will my insurance cover bariatric surgery?

Insurance coverage is complicated. A member of our team will take care of all the leg work to determine if your insurance covers bariatric surgery, what requirements must be met, and what deductible or co-pay you may be responsible for. The first step is to attend a free Bariatric Surgery Information Session.

How can I learn more about bariatric surgery?

GBMC holds free Bariatric Surgery Information Sessions two Wednesdays per month from 5:30 to 7:00 p.m. in the Civiletti Conference Center located in the East Pavilion on the GBMC campus, 6701 N. Charles Street, Towson, MD 21204. We also offer one Saturday morning session each month, from 10:30 a.m. -12:00 p.m. Parking is available in the Iris Parking Garage that is right next to the East Pavilion. Sign up for a free Information Session.

What is the youngest patient on whom you will operate?

Our surgeons will perform weight loss surgery on patients as young as 18 years of age. For patients under 20 years of age, the concern is that the patient makes the decision to pursue surgery on his/her own. It is very important for young patients to have full understanding and commitment to the altered eating pattern, which will be necessary for success.

How long does it take to schedule weight loss surgery?

Surgery can be scheduled usually within 3 to 6 months of your initial visit. Insurance approval is a pre-requisite for most people. Once you decide to have the weight loss surgery, you are given a tentative surgery date, and the pre-authorization is processed and sent to the insurance carrier approximately eight weeks in advance of surgery. Once authorization for surgery is obtained, you will be notified. All of your pre-op tests and evaluations need to be completed by your visit two weeks before surgery. The hospital stay for Laparoscopic Gastric Bypass is two nights. The gastric banding surgery is an outpatient procedure.

What is the oldest patient on whom you can operate?

Patients over 65 years of age require very strong clinical indications for surgery and must also meet the Medicare criteria for bariatric surgery, which are very stringent. The risk of surgery in this age group is increased, including the risk of mortality. In many cases, this argues against the surgery. However, weight loss surgery can be indicated and successful in patients over 65, and individual consideration will be given.

Why do I have to have a psychiatric evaluation?

We do not believe that patients with weight problems are crazy! The most common reason you are required to have a psychiatric evaluation is because your insurance requires it. Also, if you are under a psychiatrist's care for any reason, we would like a letter of approval/disapproval of the weight loss surgery. What we are looking for from the psychiatrist is to evaluate the patient's understanding and knowledge of the surgery, complications and long-term care and the ability to follow the basic recovery plan. Very few people are disqualified by the psych evaluation; it is usually painless, and it may be very helpful to you in defining your goals and your decision for surgery.

What routine tests are required prior to gastric bypass surgery?

Some of the tests include, but are not limited to blood tests (lipid profile, comprehensive metabolic profile, vitamin B12 & folate level, complete blood count with differential, thyroid panel, other vitamins and hormone levels, iron (iron binding capacity), electrocardiogram, pulmonary function tests, arterial blood gas, upper gastrointestinal series, ultrasound of abdomen and chest x-ray. You will be required to have a psychiatric consult and possibly consults with a cardiologist and pulmonologist. Cardiac Stress test and Echocardiograms and Sleep Study are required only for selected patients. Each person is treated individually, and each test ordered is to ensure the best possible treatment for the patient.

How can an insurance company deny coverage for a life threatening illness?

Coverage may be denied because there are specific exclusions in your policy for obesity surgery or "treatment of obesity," which is a manifestation of the attitude of our society toward obesity and the discrimination that people of size suffer. Such exclusion can often be attacked by reasoning that the surgical obesity treatment is recommended as the best therapy for the co-morbidities, which usually are covered. Coverage may also be denied for lack of "medical necessity." A therapy is deemed to be medically necessary when it is needed to treat a serious or life-threatening condition. In the case of morbid obesity alternative treatments are considered to exist - according to conventional wisdom - dieting, exercising, behavior modification and some medications. Usually, medical necessity denials hinge on the insurance company's demand for some form of documentation, such as 1-5 years of physician-supervised dieting or psychiatric evaluation. The best approach to these demands is to try and produce reasonable information.

What can I do to help the process?

First, help us to get all the information (diet records, medical records, medical tests) together in your case, so the carrier cannot deny for failure to provide "necessary" information. Letters from your primary care physician and consultations attesting to the "medical necessity" of obesity treatment are particularly valuable. When one or several physicians corroborate the necessity of obesity treatment, it will be hard for the carrier to contradict them. When the letter is submitted, call your carrier regularly (about once a week) to ask about your status. You may also be able to protest unreasonable delays through your employer or human relations/personnel office.

Does Laparoscopic surgery decrease the risk?

No. Laparoscopic operations carry the same risk as the similar procedure performed as an open operation. The benefits of laparoscopy are typically less discomfort, shorter hospital stays, earlier return to work and much reduced wound complication and scarring.

How long does the operation last?

Typically, gastric bypass and sleeve surgery requires 2 to 3 hours in the operating room. If your family will be waiting, they should understand that the operation might not begin immediately, so they should not watch the clock. If the operation is lasting longer, the doctor may be able to send a message to the waiting party. Gastric banding typically takes one hour.

Will I have a lot of pain?

The surgeons and the Pain Management Staff will try very hard to control pain after weight loss surgery to make it possible for you to move about quickly and become active. This helps to avoid problems and speeds recovery. There are various drugs that can be used via a system called Patient Controlled Analgesia (PCA). This is an intravenous medication dispensed through a pump, which allows you to push a button and give yourself pain medication on demand, whenever you need it. Most of the patients are pleasantly surprised at how little discomfort they experience after laparoscopic surgery.

How long do I have to stay in the hospital?

As long as it takes to be self-sufficient. Gastric bands are done on an outpatient basis, so there is usually no need for an overnight hospital stay. As for gastric bypass and gastric sleeve, these are inpatient procedures, thus the average hospital stay (including the day of surgery) is 1-2 days.

Will I have a tube coming out of my nose after surgery?

Our surgeons do not typically insert a nasogastric tube. Instead a Jackson Pratt drain will be inserted in your abdomen. This instrument is a small drain that has a bulb on the end to remove any accumulation of fluid. This will be removed at your first post-op appointment after surgery and may produce only minor discomfort, if any.

How soon will I be able to walk?

Patients will be able to walk almost immediately after surgery. Patients walk or stand at the bedside on the night of surgery and take several walks the next day and thereafter. On leaving the hospital, you will be able to care for all of your personal needs; however, you will need help with shopping and transportation.

How soon can I drive?

It is recommended that you do not drive until you have stopped taking narcotic medications and can move quickly and alertly to stop your car, especially in an emergency. This is for your safety and the safety of others on the road. Usually this takes several days after surgery.

When can I leave the area?

Patients who come from outside the Baltimore area for obesity surgery arrive the day of the surgery. There are local hotels you can stay in the night before surgery. You can have one support person stay in the room with you post-operatively on Unit 48. Typically, you will be discharged on the second post-op day or third day if you count the day of the surgery. Therefore, you will need transportation at that time.

For the first six weeks post-operation, it is advised not to drink carbonated beverages. Some patients try carbonation after six weeks, and it still gives them a problem such as feeling uncomfortable from the gas produced. Some patients are able to drink sugar-free carbonated beverages. However, it is recommended not to drink any beverages one hour prior to eating a meal and one hour after eating a meal.

Why can't I eat red meat after weight loss surgery?

You can eat red meat, but you need to be very careful. It is best to avoid it for the first several months following surgery. Red meat contains a high level of meat fibers, or gristle, which holds the meat together, preventing you from separating it into small parts when you chew. It can plug the outlet of your stomach pouch and prevent anything from passing through, which is very uncomfortable.

What is dumping syndrome?

Dumping Syndrome is caused typically by eating foods with high sugar or carbohydrate content on an empty stomach. These substances produce a high osmotic load. Your body handles this by diluting the food particles with water, which reduces blood volume and causes a shock-like state. Sugar may also induce shock due to the altered physiology of your intestinal tract. The result is an unpleasant feeling causing you to break out into a sweat, turn pale white, feel butterflies in your stomach and a pounding pulse. This may be followed by cramps and diarrhea. This state can last 30 to 60 minutes, and it is quite uncomfortable - most people have to lie down until it goes away. It can be avoided by not eating the foods that cause it, especially on an empty stomach. A small amount of sweets, such as fruit, is well tolerated at the end of a meal. Dumping Syndrome does not occur in patients who have the Gastric Band procedure because their intestines are not altered.

What is the problem with milk products?

Milk contains a special sugar called lactose, or milk sugar, which is not well digested. This sugar passes through undigested until bacteria in the lower bowel act on it, which produces irritating byproducts as well as gas. Depending on individual tolerance, some people find even the smallest amount of milk or milk sugar will cause cramps, gas and diarrhea. Patients with lactose intolerance can use Lactaid products or supplemental enzymes.

Why can't I snack between meals?

Snacking is the worst thing you can do to your weight control process. Snacking, nibbling or grazing on foods, usually high-calorie and high-fat foods, can add hundreds of calories a day to your intake while defeating the restrictive effect of your weight loss surgery. Since most snacking is done out of impulse, hunger-limitation or satiety has a limited effect in preventing it. Snacking will definitely slow down your weight loss and can lead to a late regain of weight. Snacking is also a habit, which is easier to avoid than stop once it is started.

Why drink so much water?

When you are losing weight there is a heavy load of waste products to eliminate, mostly in urine. Some of these substances tend to form crystals, which can cause kidney stones. A high water intake protects you and helps your body to rid itself of waste products efficiently, promoting better weight loss. Water will also fill your stomach and will help to prolong and intensify your sense of satisfaction with food. If you feel a desire to eat in between meals, it is because you did not drink enough water the hour before.

What is so important about exercise?

When you have gastric bypass surgery, you lose weight because the amount of food energy (calories), which you are able to eat, is much less than your body needs to operate. It has to make up the difference by burning reserves, or unused tissues. Your body will burn any unused muscle first before it begins to burn the precious fat it has saved up. If you do not exercise daily, your body will consume your unused muscle, and that means you will lose muscle mass and strength. Daily aerobic exercise for twenty minutes will communicate to your body that you want to use your muscles and force it to burn the fat instead.

Is pregnancy a possibility after weight loss surgery?

It is very important not to get pregnant for the first year after weight loss surgery. During this time there could be a high risk (up to 90 percent) of miscarriage due to the inability of the fetus to obtain all the required nutrients. Other forms of birth control will be necessary during this time. It has been reported that hormonal-based birth control is ineffective for the first 18 months. That would include birth control pills, injections and implanted hormones. After the first year post-operatively, studies indicate that normal pregnancy occurs without any complications.

Do I have to attend support group meetings?

It is highly recommended that you attend the support group meetings. You would be surprised how helpful it is to listen to the experiences of other people in the same situation. Many questions will arise along the way, and the best way to get them answered is by the people who have had the same experience. Various emotions will accompany the changes experienced, and it is important to process this in a group with others. Remember for some people isolation was part of being morbidly obese, and the support group will ensure no one is alone.

If I lose all this weight, how will my life change?

Of course, we can't predict exactly how your life will change after losing 100, 150 or 200+ pounds. That old motto, "everyone is an individual" is wise and true! We can ASSURE you that your life WILL change, and the changes are very likely to be quite dramatic!

Over the last two years that we have monitored our patients, we find some of the major changes to be:
Improved physical status (for example, blood pressure, blood sugar and respiratory regulation), more energy, less body aches and pains, improved sleeping
Improved psychological status, including decreased depression, improved self-esteem, improved social skills, more confidence and realistic hope for the future
Changes in relationships, including family, love relationships, friends and co-workers
In general these changes are positive and exciting. They are also demanding. In order to participate fully with the program, patients must really put their own health care choices first. This is very often a change for our patients since many have felt depressed and hopeless; they have given their own lives the lowest priority. Our patients have to learn to make assertive, healthy decisions for themselves, even when these decisions upset their loved ones. For example, they may choose to go on their exercise walk instead of sitting down and eating pretzels, OR they may have to deal with their spouse's jealousy or discomfort when they become increasingly independent.

Patients undergo incredible changes in how they see and feel about their bodies. Losing 100 or more pounds creates drastic changes in body size, appearance and related areas, such as dressing choices and feelings of being attractive and sexy. Accepting normal body image is sometimes a major challenge for weight loss surgery patients! Even though wearing a size eight dress may be a lifetime goal, some patients require some adjustment time to accept this reality, sometimes still "feeling fat" or worrying that they will gain weight back. We find that as more time passes and patients learn to become experts in managing the program guidelines with their individual lives, they experience more real success, and the new healthy body image becomes more comfortable and reliable.
Greater Baltimore Medical Center | 6701 North Charles Street | Baltimore, MD 21204 | (443) 849-2000 | TTY (800) 735-2258
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