Obesity affects every two in three Australians, making it one of the biggest public health issues in the country.
While many people know that obesity can increase their likelihood of developing many serious health conditions, it's not always that easy to lose weight. Having a larger body can make it much harder to exercise and maintaining the motivation to make some rather radical lifestyle changes can be incredibly difficult.
This is why many people turn to bariatric surgery, a type of procedure that helps you lose weight by changing the way your stomach digests food. Lap band surgery is one of the most common types of bariatric surgery in Australia, and for some people, it's a life-changing form of treatment.
But committing to a weight loss procedure is a big decision and there are a number of things that you should consider before doing so.
We've compiled everything that you need to know about lap band surgery in this handy guide so that you can make an informed decision about your weight loss treatment.
What is lap band surgery?
Lap band surgery, also known as gastric band surgery, is a bariatric procedure that was first developed in the 1980s and has been performed in Australia since 1992.
The procedure involves placing an adjustable band around the top part of the stomach to create a small pouch. This slows down the entry of food to your stomach and means that you don't need to eat as much food to feel full, making it much easier to lose weight.
Unlike other bariatric surgeries, the lap band procedure is reversible.
What are the eligibility requirements for lap band surgery?
Bariatric surgery isn't for everyone and in order to qualify for lap band surgery, you must be medically classified as obese.
This means that you must have a body mass index (BMI) of at least 40 or a BMI of at least 30 with one or more obesity-related health conditions including:
- High blood pressure
- Obstructive sleep apnoea
- Heart disease
- Gallbladder disease
You must also usually be:
- Over the age of 16
- Willing to participate in ongoing lifestyle changes and medical follow-ups
- Have weight problems that aren't caused by an underlying endocrinological disorder or medication use
It's important to note that lap band surgery is usually only offered to people who have tried to make lifestyle changes without success. This means you have to show that you have previously attempted to change your eating and exercise habits before considering a weight loss surgery.
What does the procedure involve?
Like most surgical procedures, gastric band surgery requires some before and after care.
In preparation for the surgery, you will most likely be required to attend a few consultations with doctors, dieticians, counsellors and other medical professionals. You may be required to follow a meal replacement plan in the two weeks before the procedure and you will also need to fast the night before the surgery so you have an empty stomach.
The surgery is performed under general anaesthesia as a keyhole procedure or laparoscopy surgery. This means that the surgeon only has to make a small cut in the stomach and is able to perform the surgery through a small tube with a camera that relays the images to an external monitor.
During the surgery, the bariatric surgeon will place a small band made of high-grade medical silicone around the top part of your stomach. This band is connected to a small device that sits under the skin of the abdomen and is used to adjust the band's size.
How long does lap band surgery take?
Lap band surgery usually only takes between 30 to 60 minutes. For this reason, the procedure is often performed as day surgery, with many patients feeling well enough to go home that night.
This all depends on your personal circumstances and it's also not uncommon to need to spend one or two nights in hospital after surgery.
How long does recovery take after lap band surgery?
Unlike other bariatric surgeries, lap band surgery doesn't involve cutting or stapling the stomach and many patients feel well enough to get up and walk around just a few hours after surgery.
However, this doesn't mean that recovering from lap band surgery is easy. You will still need to follow a liquid food diet for the first week after surgery and progress to a pureed food diet for another few weeks. It may take up to six weeks after surgery for you to eat normally again.
After your surgery, you will also need to make regular visits to your doctor to have your band adjusted as it may take some time to find the right size for you and your weight loss goals. These check-ups will also make sure that the band isn't causing you any issues and pick up on any problems early.
Your follow-up appointments will also include consultations with dieticians, who will help you continue to lose weight after surgery and help you avoid blockages and associated food problems.
What is the success rate of lap band surgery?
Lap band surgery is designed to help you feel full with a smaller amount of food and prevent overeating. However, patients will also need to make further lifestyle changes to see success from the surgery.
Studies have shown that while most patients report an initial 35 per cent excess weight loss, the success doesn't always last. Lap band surgery has been shown to have a relatively high re-intervention rate for band-related complications and seems to pose challenges to long-term weight loss.
The same study also showed that only 54 per cent of lap band surgery patients still have their band in place after a 10-year period.
For some people, lap band surgery may be the weight loss treatment that allows them to lose weight and achieve their health goals but it's not for everyone. It's important to properly consider your other weight loss options before having bariatric surgery.
What are the risks of lap band surgery?
Like any surgical procedure, lap band surgery comes with a few risks. During or immediately after surgery there is a small risk of the following:
- Infection of the wound
- Excessive blood loss
- Adverse reaction to anaesthesia
- Pulmonary embolism
The post-surgery complications of gastric band surgery can include trouble swallowing, heartburn, inflammation of the stomach, gallstones, leakage, band erosion, disconnection of the tubing between the band and port, access port rotation and port infection.
While rare, there's a small risk of the band slipping out of place and damaging the stomach and other organs. In some cases, overeating can also lead to vomiting and oesophageal dilatation.
Studies have shown that between 15 and 60 per cent of people who have a gastric band procedure will require a follow-up surgery due to post-surgery complications.
It's important that you speak to a medical professional about your risks before having gastric band surgery.
How much does gastric band surgery cost?
Depending on your individual circumstances, the lap band surgery costs will vary.
While the surgery is covered by private health insurance, it's usually only included in high levels of cover and even then, you will still have to pay around 25 per cent of the overall fees. This means that you can expect to pay between AUD $2,500 to AUD $5,500 with private health insurance and between AUD $10,000 to AUD $16,000 without private health cover.
It may be worth joining a private health fund or upgrading your current level of private health insurance cover for the surgery. However, you will still have to adhere to the 12-month waiting period before getting approved for surgery as obesity is considered a pre-existing condition.
If you don't have private health insurance, Medicare does offer partial reimbursement for the surgery costs but this is often a small amount.
Your major costs will still include fees for the initial consultation, hospital stay, anaesthesia, medication and surgeon charges. You'll also need to factor in post-surgery follow-up appointments and annual gastric band checkups for many years to come.
You can check your expected medicare rebate amount on the Medicare benefits schedule website.
Lap band surgery alternatives
Bariatric surgeries are only one of many different weight loss treatments and while they are appealing for many reasons, it's important to know your options and consider less invasive and more cost-efficient alternatives.
Specialist-designed weight loss plans, health coaching, meal replacement shakes and weight loss medications are all effective weight loss treatment options. This is why Pilot's Metabolic Reset Program combines all of these options into one program.
When you try to lose weight, your body can often go into survival mode, triggering hunger hormones and slowing down your metabolism to conserve energy — the very opposite of what you want it to do.
To combat this, Pilot's program combines clinically-proven hunger regulating medications with health coaching and tracking to give you the very best chance at losing weight.
The breakthrough medication works to regulate your appetite, overhaul hunger hormones and safely shift your set point, which is the weight your body fights to maintain, according to your biology.
Fighting your genetics with diet and exercise can become impossible and it no longer becomes about willpower. This is why we created the Metabolic Reset Program — to help you lose weight with the help of modern medicine, health tracking, lifestyle coaching and access to a private community who are on the same journey as you.
Your weight loss journey doesn't have to be a lonely one and we have the tools for change available if you're ready.
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