Surgery ‘Powerful Tool’ Against Diabetes

Bariatric surgery showing long-term positive results

Diabetes definition

In 2012, a Cleveland Clinic study showed diabetic, overweight patients who had bariatric surgery saw significant improvement or remission of their type 2 diabetes.

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In the study, bariatric surgery — which included gastric bypass surgery and sleeve gastrectomy — helped patients control their diabetes and greatly reduce dependence on medications, to the point that they were able to stop taking them within days of the surgery.

Yet one question about bariatric surgery as a diabetes treatment has been how long the effects of the surgery would last before the diabetes returned.

New study finds benefits over five-year period

Now a new Cleveland Clinic study, published in the journal Annals of Surgery, finds surgery works to control type 2 diabetes over five years, especially if undergone early in the course of the disease.

The study examined 217 patients with type 2 diabetes who had bariatric surgery between 2004 and 2007, looking at their health outcomes over a five-year period.

  • Nearly 25 percent had complete “cure” of their diabetes at the end of the period, meaning they had normal glucose readings for at least a year without medications.
  • Another 26 percent had a partial remission, meaning they had higher-than-normal glucose levels but below those termed “diabetic,” without medications.
  • About 20 percent had a recurrence of their diabetes, which was associated with longer duration of their disease and their weight regain.
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Bariatric surgery a ‘powerful tool’

Surgeon Philip Schauer, MD, who led the 2012 study, says of the new findings, “This shows how powerful a tool bariatric surgery is.”

The new study also begins to show who benefits most from the surgery, says Dr. Schauer. “We found out if we can intervene within five years of the onset of the disease, we have a much better chance of putting diabetes into remission long-term.”

Opening new areas of research

The implications of the surgery as a possible cure for diabetes are enormous and open up vast new areas of potential research.

Dr. Schauer says a lot of the research is already underway: “There’s currently research taking place to see how bariatric surgery affects hormones and other diabetes-related conditions, including retinopathy and neuropathy.”

Who should consider bariatric surgery?

Dr. Schauer says obese patients with uncontrolled diabetes should talk to their doctors about bariatric surgery as a treatment option.

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“Results of these studies show us that surgery should be considered seriously as a treatment — and considered early on. Every surgery has risks, but the majority of bariatric surgery is now done laparoscopically, a less invasive technique using smaller incisions.”

 “It has about the same risks as other elective surgeries like hysterectomies and gall bladder surgery,” says Dr. Schauer.

Watch Dr. Philip Schauer talk about how he helped a couple control their diabetes with bariatric surgery on the TV show The Doctors.

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