Bariatric Surgery’s Emotional Risks for Women

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Surgeon Jenny Choi, MD, had a patient who was so ashamed of her extreme weight gain that she had almost completely stopped leaving home. After undergoing bariatric surgery, the woman lost nearly 150 pounds and happily regained her social life.

She’s just one example of the majority of the patients Dr. Choi has treated as director of bariatric surgery at the Montefiore Medical Center in New York City who become healthier and happier after weight-loss surgery.

But a small portion of bariatric surgery patients have a different experience. Their lives may not change as they expected, their weight may return over time, or they may be uncomfortable with a new and different body. Although bariatric surgery is meant to change a person’s physical shape, a whole host of psychological repercussions can come from dealing with obesity and the aftermath of a weight-reduction operation.

“I’ve seen it really transform people’s lives again and again,” says Louis Aronne, MD, director of the Center for Weight Management and Metabolic Clinical Research at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City. “But weight loss of any type can have an effect on mood … the effect is complex, to say the least.”

Pre-Existing Struggles With Mood Disorders and Obesity

An October 2015 study in JAMA Surgery looked at more than 8,000 Canadian adults before and after bariatric surgery. Researchers found that a small group, 111 patients, experienced self-harm emergencies after the procedure. The numbers showed a significant increase in such instances — about 1.5 fold after surgery — in this group of patients when compared to the years before treatment. A majority of the incidents were intentional medication overdoses.

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