Gastric Bands – Quick Fix, Miracle Cure?

Vanessa Feltz and Fern Britton are now arguably more famous for their Gastric Bands than they are anything else but is it really the miracle cure for obesity that it’s made out to be?

The Gastic Band is a surgical procedure where a silicone band is fitted around the stomach which is then gradually tightened to make the stomach smaller and therefore reduce the amount of food the patient can eat.  A Gastric Band is reversible unlike a Gastric Bypass which you are stuck with once you’ve had the surgery.

It was introduced in the 90’s and 1000’s of people have had them fitted to help them lose weight but also to help them to manage life-threatening conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure.

However, despite the popularity of weight loss surgery by the public, GP’s and in the media, there is worrying evidence coming to light that this kind of surgery is failing, sometimes with dire consequences.

It seems to be the Gastric Band operations that are causing the most problems.  A significant number of  these operations simply don’t work. According to research by the University of California, about 20% of patients regain the weight a few years after surgery. This is mainly due to the “stretching” of the shrunken stomach.

A study done by Dutch doctors found the whole idea of fitting Gastric Bands questionable due to the apparent low success rate that they thought it just isn’t worth doing.

A third of patients need to have the operation re-done after five years, while half needed this at ten years due to complications.  A third of patients don’t lose the expected amount of weight after five years and, after ten years, two thirds were back to their original size.

Other problems are coming to the fore including psychological issues, including suicide, kidney stones, anaemia, bone thinning and fractures.

The cost to the NHS of bariatric surgery is massive but the NHS justifies it by saying that it will cost them less in the long run if they don’t have to spend money treating conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure.  Guidelines say that surgery should be a last resort but in 2009 some 4,300 operations were carried out which was a 55% rise on the previous year.  There were also 5,000 private operations carried out in the same year.

In 2010, Clare White, 37, died following Gastric Band surgery.  She weighed 19 stones when she had the surgery believing that it would help her with her insulin dependent diabetes.  She was keen to have the operation after trying all other methods of weight loss.  She had 3 children.

The surgeon who carried out the operation said that he thought the band had irritated Clare’s stomach which caused an infection which in turn caused a blood clot on her lung.  She was told that the surgery carried a 1 in 2,000 risk of death.  She is not the only one to have died following bariatric surgery.  An absolute tragedy no doubt about it but one has to wonder if these operations are worth both the risk and the failure rate.

It is also not surprising that patients are suffering from ill health following Gastric Band operations.  Because you have such a restricted stomach, it makes sense that absorbing all the right vitamins and minerals is almost impossible which can lead to brittle bones and anaemia.

By far, the most disturbing result of a Gastric Band is that of a psychological nature.  Despite NICE guidelines appearing to be quite strict, some aspects are being ignored such as a patients mental health at the time of agreeing to surgery.  There is a very big difference between being of sound enough mind to make the decision to have surgery but it’s quite another as to whether a patient has underlying psychological issues as to why they have become obese in the first place.  The patient also has to agree to stick to the “rules” of the Gastric Band such as only eating an egg sized amount of food, 3 times a day and chew each morsel relentlessly.  If the patient has failed at every other diet regime, why is it presumed they will be able to stick to this one?!  When this is the case, it’s clear that these issues need addressing first or the patient is destined to fail and so is the NHS by not providing the much needed psychological support and therapy.  When an obese patient opts to have a Gastric Band fitted but the underlying issues have not been address then he or she will inevitably find ways around not being able to eat a full meal.  For example, chocolate, ice cream and alcohol slip through the band quite nicely but are not conducive to weight loss!  Also, if the patient is addicted to food and then becomes unable to feed that addiction, the will simply turn to another – gambling or shopping for example – anything to make the suffering ease.

Some people seem to have got on quite nicely with the band but I do think that there needs to be a lot more long term study done into the end result before we rely on this kind of surgical intervention.  If we could find a way of making peace with who we are, learn some techniques to aid gentle weight loss, then we would not have to turn to such drastic measures which for some, end with the worst possible outcome.