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Obesity Surgery Complication Rates Higher than Previously Thought

Four of every 10 obesity surgery patients develop a complication, such as a hernia, within 6 months of leaving the hospital, according to a new study by HHS’ Agency// for Healthcare Research and Quality. The study is the most extensive to date on post-surgical complications from obesity operations based on insurance claims data.

The researchers found that the complication rate among non-elderly obesity surgery patients with private insurance increased by 81 percent following hospital discharge – from 21.9 percent while they were still hospitalized to 39.6 percent by the end of the 180-day study period.

“Obesity surgery is helping thousands of Americans who have not succeeded at losing weight reduce their risk of diabetes and other life-threatening diseases, but this study shows how important it is for patients to consider the potential complications when they make the decision to undergo the procedure,” said AHRQ Director Carolyn M. Clancy, M.D. “The study also should give clinicians information that will help them make improvements in the procedure and post-surgical care.”

The five most common complications were dumping syndrome, which includes vomiting, reflux, and diarrhea (nearly 20 percent); anastomosis complications (complications resulting from the surgical joining of the intestine and stomach), such as leaks or strictures (12 percent); abdominal hernias (7 percent); infections (6 percent); and pneumonia (4 percent). The overall death rate for entire the 180-day postoperative period studied was low – 0.2 percent.

Complications from obesity surgery also increased costs. Medical care spending averaged $36,542 for obesity surgery patients who experienced a complication up to 180 days after surgery, including their initial hospital stay; spending for patients without complications averaged $25,337. In addition, medical care spending for patients who had to be readmitted because of a complication during the 180-day
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