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Bariatric Surgery: Good for Mind and Body

Doctor talking to a patient


Many people struggle with weight loss, despite their efforts to diet or exercise. When weight starts to interfere with quality of life or contributes to diseases like diabetes or hypertension, it may be time to consider weight loss surgery.

Also known as bariatric surgery, weight loss surgery requires significant commitment. But the results are transformational. If you are thinking about bariatric surgery, learn more by attending a VCU Health weight loss seminar, offered several days a month.

“It’s an information session. It is noncommittal. You can come, sit, chat with people who are part of the program, see how it is a multidisciplinary approach to weight loss, and discuss the process of how you get from that seminar to an actual surgery,” says Dr. Jennifer Salluzzo, a bariatric and gastrointestinal surgeon at VCU Health.

Dr. Jennifer Salluzzo

Does insurance cover weight loss surgery?

Insurance usually covers weight loss surgery if you have a body mass index (BMI) greater than 35, as long as you have a weight-related medical problem such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes or sleep apnea. Without such medical issues, BMI must be 40 or higher.

Insurance companies generally require you to meet with a professional regarding diet, undergo a psychological evaluation and pass any other medical clearances the surgeon recommends.

“At that point, an insurance company would approve a patient,” Dr. Salluzzo says. “However, we do recommend patients check with their individual insurance companies.” Medicaid and Medicare cover weight loss surgeries, as well.

Two surgical options available

Depending on patient need or preference, Dr. Salluzzo offers two different types of surgery: laparoscopic sleeve gastrectomy and gastric bypass.

“In laparoscopic sleeve gastrectomy I remove 80% of the floppy portion of the stomach, which makes the stomach look like a banana. Food goes down the esophagus, into the banana-shaped stomach and into the small intestine in the regular direction it always had gone before. It would just be a smaller stomach,” she explains.

In gastric bypass, Dr. Salluzzo makes a golf ball-sized pouch out of the stomach and attaches a piece of intestine to it, bypassing the large portion of the stomach and the first part of the small intestine. This way, patients have a smaller stomach to fill and less intestine to absorb nutrients. “It gives you the benefit of both for weight loss,” Dr. Salluzzo explains.

Most patients are in the hospital one or two nights. The recommended downtime is at least two weeks off work and no heavy lifting.

What can you expect post-surgery?

Benefits of either procedure include lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, fewer complications from diabetes, even remission, and elimination of a CPAP machine, if used for sleep apnea.

“It is a true body transformation, as well a mind transformation,” shares Dr. Salluzzo. “People can now live their lives more successfully and spend time running around with their children or their grandchildren, and do so with energy and without feeling short of breath.”

Weight loss surgery is not a quick fix, though. It’s a program and a process.

“We are dealing with a complex problem that affects every aspect of the body and mind,” Dr. Salluzzo cautions. “We want our patients to be successful. We’re here to help them get from point A to point B, but they have to be patient and stick with us along the way so we can get them to a healthier point in their lives — where they can live happily.”

Listen to a full interview with Salluzzo on this topic by clicking here and learn more about the team of bariatric surgeons at VCU Health at www.vcuhealth.org/weightlosssurgery.

For more podcast episodes, find the Healthy with VCU Health podcast on any major streaming platform or visit the VCU Health Podcast library at vcuhealth.org/podcasts.