If you are obese, losing weight can have a positive impact on your overall health and well-being. It can decrease joint pain, improve sleep quality, and lower your risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic health problems.
But if you are obese and facing surgery, losing weight before your procedure can be even more important. Losing weight lowers your risk for serious surgery-related complications such as infection, blood clots, and heart attack.
Losing Weight Is Possible
Losing weight is hard for everyone. And it may seem especially difficult if you are very overweight or have been obese for a long time. You might even think that losing weight is impossible because you feel unable to change your eating and exercise habits. Or maybe you are overwhelmed and just don’t know where to start.
The truth is that making small changes to your eating and exercise habits can make a difference. It can help you shed enough excess weight in the weeks or months before your surgery to make a difference to your recovery. And, you don’t necessarily need to achieve your ideal body weight right away. Losing even a portion of your excess body weight may lower your risk of complications during or after surgery.
If you develop an infection, it will not only slow your recovery, but you may need to take antibiotics, have another surgery, or spend more time in the hospital.
People who are obese are at high risk of developing life-threatening complications during and after surgery. Here are three complications that are linked to obesity:
1. Poor wound healing.
Your wound needs a healthy supply of blood and oxygen to help it heal after surgery. Excess fat can lead to increased pressure or tension on your incision which can make it hard for the wound to get the proper amount of blood it needs to heal. Because of this, it may take more time than usual for your wound to heal.
Excess fatty tissue can also increase the amount of time you spend on the operating table which research shows is linked to an increased risk of infection. Preventing infection is important because a post-operative infection may require antibiotics, an additional surgery, and/or an extended stay in the hospital.
2. Problems with anesthesia.
Excess fatty tissue can make it more difficult for your doctors to deliver the medication that is used to put you to sleep during surgery. Your doctors may have a harder time finding veins that can be used to give you anesthesia and other emergency medications. They also may have difficulty inserting the breathing tube during surgery. Obese patients have higher oxygen demand due to increased total body tissue mass. This places the patient at an increased risk for decreased blood oxygen levels and increased blood carbon dioxide levels when ventilation is impaired. In addition, excess adipose tissue can reduce the chest's ability to rise and fall with ventilation which places the patient at risk for developing pneumonia.
Sleep disordered breathing is a comorbidity commonly associated with obesity that can lead to difficult airway management during surgery. A sleep study test may be recommended prior to your surgery date to assess for a condition called sleep apnea
3. Increased risk of cardiovascular problems.
If you are obese, your heart needs to work harder to provide your body with the blood and oxygen it needs. During surgery, this added stress and the use of anesthesia places you at a higher risk of heart attack, angina (chest pain), stroke and high blood pressure.
Obesity also puts you at a higher risk of developing a condition called deep vein thrombosis (DVT). DVT can lead to a dangerous complication called pulmonary embolism (a blood clot in your lungs).
Getting the Support You Need before Surgery
“If your surgeon thinks you may be at risk for obesity-related complications during or after surgery, they may refer you to the Surgery Optimization Clinic. There you will meet with a skilled nurse practitioner. They will perform a complete exam to find out more about your overall health.
In addition to a head-to-toe exam, you will learn about how you can lower your risk for problems. Together, you and your nurse practitioner will make a step-by-step plan to help you achieve your goal of losing weight. This will include referral to weight loss programs or other specialists who can help.
As you work toward your weight loss goal, our nurse care coordinators will check on your progress. We also will share your progress with your surgeon, family doctor and other health care providers so they can decide the best course for your care.
Reducing Your Risks of Surgery Complications
Our goal is to help you make healthy lifestyle changes that improve your chances of having a successful surgery. If you are obese, it’s never too late to lose weight.
The specialists at the UPMC Surgery Optimization Clinic can help you take the first steps toward losing weight and reducing your risks of complications. For more information, talk to surgeon or call us at 717-782-4785.