The Basics of Bariatric Surgery

The Normal Digestive Process

Normally, as food moves along the digestive tract, digestive juices and enzymes digest and absorb calories and nutrients (see figure 1). After we chew and swallow our food, it moves down the esophagus to the stomach, where a strong acid continues the digestive process. The stomach can hold about 3 pints of food at one time. When the stomach contents move to the duodenum, the first segment of the small intestine, bile and pancreatic juice speed up digestion. Most of the iron and calcium in the foods we eat is absorbed in the duodenum. The jejunum and ileum, the remaining two segments of the nearly 20 feet of small intestine, complete the absorption of almost all calories and nutrients. The food particles that cannot be digested in the small intestine are stored in the large intestine until eliminated.

figure 1 picHow Exactly Does Weight Loss Surgery Promote Weight Loss?

Gastrointestinal surgery for obesity, also called bariatric (or weight loss) surgery, alters the digestive process. The operations can be divided into three types: restrictive, malabsorptive, and combined restrictive/malabsorptive. Restrictive operations limit food intake by creating a narrow passage from the upper part of the stomach into the larger lower part, reducing the amount of food the stomach can hold and slowing the passage of food through the stomach. Malabsorptive operations do not limit food intake, but instead exclude most of the small intestine from the digestive tract so fewer calories and nutrients are absorbed. Malabsorptive operations, also called intestinal bypasses, are no longer recommended because they result in severe nutritional deficiencies. Combined operations use stomach restriction and a partial bypass of the small intestine.<

What Are the Surgical Options?

There are several types of restrictive and combined operations. Each form of weight loss surgery has its own benefits and risks.

Restrictive Operations

Purely restrictive operations only limit food intake and do not interfere with the normal digestive process. To perform the operation, doctors create a small pouch at the top of the stomach where food enters from the esophagus. At first, the pouch holds about 1 ounce of food and later may stretch to 2-3 ounces. The lower outlet of the pouch is usually about inch in diameter or smaller. This small outlet delays the emptying of food from the pouch into the larger part of the stomach and causes a feeling of fullness.

After the operation, patients can no longer eat large amounts of food at one time. Most patients can eat about to 1 cup of food without discomfort or nausea, but the food has to be soft, moist, and well chewed. Patients who undergo restrictive procedures generally are not able to eat as much as those who have combined operations.

Purely restrictive operations for obesity include adjustable gastric banding (AGB) and vertical banded gastroplasty (VBG).

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Last Modified Date: July 07, 2014

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