Can weight-loss surgery ease type 2 diabetes?

February 21, 2017 Providence Health Team

A new study says it can

Mild to moderately obese people who undergo weight-loss surgery for their diabetes could benefit more in the long term than those who don’t, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The five-year study of people who underwent weight-loss surgery, known as bariatric surgery, showed they fared better than those who received other treatment, such as medication or counseling.

About a third of the people who had surgery had “a complete remission of their diabetes” five years later, said lead researcher Philip Schauer, M.D., director of the Cleveland Clinic Baratric and Metabolic Institute.

Those who had surgery, the study found, also saw other enduring improvements such as:

  • Healthier levels of glycated hemoglobin, which health care providers use as a gauge of blood sugar
  • Needing fewer or no medications, including insulin
  • Lower weight, including waist circumference and body-mass index (BMI)
  • Improved quality of life
  • Lower cholesterol

Dr. Schauer said the results may broaden the pool of patients who might be candidates for surgery to help control their blood sugar.

“Most clinical guidelines and insurance policies for bariatric surgery limit access to patients with a BMI of 35 or above,” he said. “Our five-year results demonstrate that glycemic improvement in patients with a BMI of 27 to 34 is durable at least up to five years.”

Treating diabetes

Type 2 diabetes, which is the dominant form of the disease among adults, causes abnormally high blood sugar levels. About 29.1 million, or roughly 1 of every 11 Americans, has diabetes, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC calls it “an epidemic.”

If a person’s blood sugar builds up in his body, he could face deadly complications such as heart disease, stroke, blindness, kidney failure and amputation of toes, feet or legs.

To stay on top of your type 2 diabetes, you and your health care provider can:

  • Measure your blood sugar by getting an A1C test, which measures your average levels over the past three months
  • Check your blood pressure to make sure your heart isn’t working harder than it should
  • Check your cholesterol levels

Apart from having surgery, the CDC notes you can manage your diabetes by:

  • Reducing your level of stress
  • Eating a healthy diet, including fruits, vegetables and whole grains
  • Being physically active

Smoking is a risk factor for diabetes. If you want to quit, Providence has resources that can help.

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