Obese patients who have diabetes or sleep apnea might fit this category, as well as people with knee or hip arthritis who need a joint replacement, Livingston said.
Why these conditions improve isn't clear, he noted. It could be the operation, or better medical care, or patients taking better care of themselves, he suggested.
Depending on the actual operation, bariatric surgery costs between $10,000 and $20,000 plus follow-up costs, and insurance coverage is very inconsistent, Livingston added.
"I would approach bariatric surgery cautiously. It's not a panacea. It has a lot of downsides," Livingston explained. Complications can include leaks, infections and embolism (a sudden blockage in an artery), he pointed out.
Also, many patients gain back the weight lost after the surgery. "We really don't know the very long-term results of these operations," Livingston said.
For more information on bariatric surgery, visit the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
SOURCES: Lars Sjostrom, M.D., Ph.D., professor, Institute of Medicine, University of Gothenburg, Sweden; Edward H. Livingston, M.D., Dr. Lee Hudson-Robert R. Penn Chair in Surgery, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas; Francesco Rubino, M.D., chief, gastrointestinal metabolic surgery, and associate professor, surgery, Weill Cornell Medical College, and assistant attending surgeon, New York-Presbyterian-Weill Cornell Medical Center, New York City; Jan. 4, 2012, Journal of the American Medical Association
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