Should We Be Treating Type 2 Diabetes With Bariatric Surgery?

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I’m resurrecting and tweaking this piece, for the third time now, consequent to the publication in the New England Journal of Medicine of the 12 year data that continues to strongly support the use of bariatric surgery to treat type 2 diabetes.In case you missed the news, a recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine demonstrated dramatic benefits of bariatric surgery in the treatment of type 2 diabetes.Now I’m not going to get into the study here in great detail, but it followed 1,156 patients from for 12 years and divided them into 3 groups. Those who sought and chose not to have bariatric surgery. Those who sought and had bariatric surgery. And those who did not seek nor have bariatric surgery. Researchers examined all of them at baseline, 2 years, 6 years, and 12 years in terms of whether they had type 2 diabetes, hypertension, or hyperlipidemia. The results were striking.With a follow up rate of 90% at 10 years researchers demonstrated that not only were patients 12 years post bariatric surgery maintaining an average loss of 77lbs/26.9% (the non-surgical groups at 12 years lost an average of nothing), but that amoung those patients who had diabetes pre-surgically, 12 years later, 51% were in remission. And for those who are curious about such things as odds ratios, the odds ratio for the incidence of type 2 diabetes at 12 years was 0.08 (95% CI, 0.03 to 0.24) for the surgery group versus the non-surgery group. (and though they weren’t quite as striking, the surgery group at 12 years also had markedly higher remission rates and lower incidences of both hypertension and hyperlpidemia) So basically here we have a surgical intervention that is dramatically better medical management for type 2 diabetes – a condition that causes cumulative damage and can wreak havoc on a person’s quality and quantity of life.Yet many MDs, allied health professionals and health reporters, including some who I know, respect, and admire, regularly discuss how we shouldn’t be looking to surgical solutions for diabetes because patients could instead use their forks and feet. While there’s no argument about the fact that in a ideal world everyone would take it upon themselves to live the healthiest lives possible, there’s two problems with that argument. Firstly, not everyone is interested in changing their lifestyle, and secondly, statistically speaking, the majority of even those who are interested and successful with lifestyle change will ultimately regress – the simple fact remains that we don’t yet have a proven, reproducible and sustainable approach to lifestyle change of any sort.And what of those folks not wanting to change? I say, “so what?”. Since when did MDs, allied health professionals or health columnists earn the right to judge others on their abilities or desires to change? Our job is to provide patients with information – all information – including information on lifestyle change, medical management and surgery. We can even provide patients with our opinions as to which road we think may be best for them, and why, but honestly, given the results from these studies, I’m not sure how anyone could make an evidence based case that surgery isn’t a very real and powerful option that ought to be discussed with all of their patients with type 2 diabetes and obesity.Unless of course that someone has some form of weight (or simply anti-surgery) bias.Let me give you another example. Let’s say there was a surgical procedure that women with breast cancer could undergo that would reduce their risk of breast cancer recurrence by roughly 30%. Do you think anyone would question a woman’s desire to have it? I can’t imagine. And yet lifestyle – weight loss and exercise has indeed been shown to reduce risk of breast cancer recurrence by 30%. Think people would dare suggest the women choosing surgery were, “taking the easy way out”, that they should just use their forks and feet?We’ve got to get over ourselves.Until we have a proven, remotely comparable, reproducible, sustainable, non-surgical option, if you bash the surgical option on its surface for being “easy”, or “wrong”, you might want to do a bit of soul searching as to whether or not you’re practicing good medical caution, or if instead you’re practicing plain, old, irrational bias.[and for new readers to ensure there’s no confusion – I’m not a surgeon]



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