ELLERBE NC – Sherry Cooper didn’t have the high blood pressure or diabetes that often accompanies excessive weight, but she did have rheumatoid arthritis, a painful condition that was being complicated by her extra pounds and was especially making itself known in her right hip.
She was also taking several medications to help control her symptoms and pain.
After deciding “I've just got to do this,” Cooper attended one of the weight-loss surgery information sessions that are part of the bariatric surgery program at FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital. She had her surgery in September 2012 and has since lost 113 pounds or the equivalent weight of a small adult.
Since her surgery and weight-loss, Cooper no longer needs four of the five medications she had been taking previously – one that upset her stomach, another that caused nausea, a third she took to combat the nausea caused by the second and yet another that gave her headaches. She is also enjoying some relief from her medication expense.
“I feel great,” says the mother of three and grandmother of five.
Cooper is a lab technician at FirstHealth Family Care in Ellerbe, where primary care physician Bo Kopynec, M.D., has noticed similar responses to medication requirements in all of his patients who have had weight-loss surgery. Some, especially those who had been diagnosed with diabetes, were ready to come off at least some medications by the time they left the hospital after their surgery.
“It’s one of the tools we can use to treat diabetes,” Dr. Kopynec says of bariatric surgery.
Various studies, including information cited in the respected British medical journal The Lancet, have confirmed what Dr. Kopynec has observed. “Bariatric surgery,” a recent Lancet article pointed out, “not only induces weight loss, but also improves metabolic status (the way the body uses food and water to make energy).”
As Dr. Kopynec studied the medical records of six of his patients who had had weight-loss surgery, he noted the following striking improvements:
- One patient was able to come off her diabetes medication immediately after surgery
- Three patients now no longer need medication to control their high blood pressure
- Two patients no longer require medication to control their cholesterol/triglycerides levels
Although there are always risks to surgery, Dr. Kopynec points out, there can also be risks to adding medication after medication to a patient's treatment plan. That is why he will usually bring up the subject of weight-loss surgery with obese patients who are also dealing with uncontrolled high blood pressure, diabetes and other conditions that are aggravated by their weight.
“There are a lot of factors to consider when you are adding medications,” he says. “(Weight-loss surgery) is an option that should at least be brought up in the discussion.”
Raymond Washington, M.D., a general and bariatric surgeon with Moore Regional Hospital and Pinehurst Surgical, says that weight-loss surgery is especially effective in patients who have been prescribed an oral medication for their diabetes.
“Their medication needs are usually resolved prior to their discharge from the hospital,” he says. “If they are on insulin, it will take a little more time.”
About 70 percent of patients with high blood pressure will eventually experience a change in their medication needs, too.
“Sleep apnea is another area that improves,” Dr. Washington says. “These conditions continue to get better as the patient loses weight, but there are definite improvements right away.”
FirstHealth has begun an outreach program designed to inform primary care physicians about the various positive effects of weight-loss surgery on a patient's health.
“We follow patients for life so we know about these improvements,” Dr. Washington says. “We are able to notice it ourselves.”