Sep 23, 2014 9:00 AM

Author: Office of Public Affairs


Diabetes rates are climbing, and the disease is the seventh leading cause of death in the U.S. But there is good news when it comes to treatment options. More research is showing that weight-loss surgery, also known as bariatric surgery, is a superior treatment for some people with type 2 diabetes than managing the condition with lifestyle changes and medication. 

People with type 2 diabetes who quality for the procedure are those who have a body mass index above 35, which is considered obese, and have struggled to lose weight by traditional methods. Its effectiveness, though, has little to do with weight loss.

“What it’s about is the re-plumbing of the gut, which is an endocrine organ,” explains Timothy E. Graham, MD, an assistant professor of medicine, biochemistry and nutrition at the University of Utah and director of the University of Utah's Diabetes and Heart Disease Prevention Program.

“They can start to rely on their own pancreas,” Graham says. Normally, the pancreas produces insulin, which regulates blood sugar levels. But in people with type 2 diabetes, the pancreas doesn’t effectively produce insulin.

For reasons not fully understood, bariatric surgery seems to help obese people with diabetes regulate insulin effectively and even increases their metabolic rate. Patients who receive bariatric surgery are often able to stop using insulin within 24 hours.

A recent study published in The New England Journal of Medicine highlights the promising future of weight-loss surgery in treating diabetes. A head-to-head comparison of intensive medical therapy versus surgery confirmed that surgery offered a better prognosis for patients, most of whom no longer needed insulin after the procedure—not even three years later. Another study that was published in The Journal of the American Medical Association found that patients can stay in diabetes remission for as long as 15 years following surgery.

The cost of the procedure is inhibitive for many patients, ranging from $11,500 to $26,500 according to the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery. But consider that a person with diabetes will spend $13,700 annually in medical costs. 

Weight-loss surgery, however, is not a magic cure. The American Diabetes Association recommends such patients continue regular diabetes screenings.

“This is still a last resort,” Graham says of bariatric surgery, “and afterwards, lifestyle changes are needed to maintain the results.”

diabetes weight-loss surgery

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