Bariatric surgery: Using weight loss drugs beforehand can help

Evan Walker
Evan Walker TheMediTary.Com |
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Researchers say drugs such as Ozempic can improve the outcomes of bariatric surgery. NurPhoto/Getty Images
  • Researchers report that people who lose weight prior to bariatric surgery reduce their risk of complications.
  • They said the people with a body mass index of more than 70 before their surgery are at the greatest risk for complications.
  • They said that losing weight before bariatric surgery can “jump start” weight loss.

People with extreme obesity who are considering bariatric surgery may benefit from losing weight with a combination of GLP-1 agonist medications such as Ozempic before their procedure.

That’s according to research presented at the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery’s 2024 annual scientific meeting.

The study, which hasn’t been published yet in a peer-reviewed journal, included 113 participants with more than 70 of them attempting to lose weight before bariatric surgery through various ways.

Those methods included:

  • Medically supervised diet and exercise
  • Single GLP-1 medication (semaglutide was used most often)
  • Multimodal therapy that included more than one GLP-1

The researchers reported that those on multiple medications for between 6 months and 12 months had the most significant weight loss, losing an average of 13% of body weight.

Participants taking a single GLP-1 had the second most weight loss (8%), and those using diet and exercise had the least (6%).

“I do agree and prefer patients lower their BMI [body mass index] to be in the 50s before surgery,” said Dr. Mir Ali, a bariatric surgeon and medical director of MemorialCare Surgical Weight Loss Center at Orange Coast Medical Center in California. “We can’t always use GLPs as they aren’t always covered by insurance and they can be too expensive without the insurance.

“In those cases, we have the patient work with a diet counselor,” Ali, who wasn’t involved in the study, told Medical News Today. “Sometimes, we recommend a liquid diet. Losing weight before surgery can be quite helpful. It can provide a jump start to weight loss that continues after the surgery.”

“Overall, metabolic surgery is safe – safer than gall bladder surgery, which is considered safe and routine,” Ali added.

Researchers said that weight loss before bariatric surgery can lower the risk of complications. The scientists indicated that people with a BMI higher than 70 had the greatest risk of complications. Lifestyle or first-generation medications hadn’t significantly lowered potential complications.

“Combining anti-obesity medications may achieve much greater pre-surgery weight loss than other methods for those with extreme obesity,” said Dr. Phil Schauer, the director of the Metamor Metabolic Institute at Pennington Biomedical in Louisiana, said in a press release. “Many patients who would otherwise be considered ‘too sick for surgery’ may now qualify.”

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