Weight loss surgery could be beneficial for overweight individuals in that it helps reduce the risks for developing obesity-related conditions such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure. Findings of a new study, however, suggest that the surgical operation also has potentially fatal risks.

Researchers from Canada have found that individuals who undergo bariatric surgery face increased risks for self-harm and suicidal behaviors two to three years after the surgery.

For the new study published in JAMA Surgery on Oct. 7, study researcher Junaid Bhatti, from Sunnybrook Research Institute at the University of Toronto, and colleagues tracked nearly 9,000 individuals who had weight loss surgery, monitoring them for a period of three years before and after they went through the operation.

In the three years before the surgery, there were 62 incidences of self-harm but this increased by 54 percent with 96 reported self-harm incidences in the three year period after the surgery.

The researchers noted that most of the self-harm incidences involved intentional overdosing on medication. They also noticed that patients who were older than 35 years old, those who live in rural areas and those with low-income status tend to be more vulnerable to these behaviors.

Earlier studies offer possible explanations as to why the risks for self-harm increase after the surgery. Bhatti said that stress and anxiety as well as hormonal changes that come as a result of the operation can contribute to the behavior.

Bariatric surgery also changes how the body breaks down alcohol, which lowers inhibitions that would otherwise help prevent people from inflicting harm on themselves. The inadequate psychological follow-up after a weight loss surgery could also be a factor, the researchers said.

"Bariatric surgery follow-up is notoriously poor," said Amir Ghaferi, from the Ann Arbor Veterans Administration Healthcare. "We try to maintain at least one-year follow-up with our patients, but it's hard. Patients fall off the radar. They move, or it's the type of operation where if they're doing well or doing poorly, they're not going to come see you."

The researchers nonetheless assured that weight loss surgeries are safe albeit patients need to know the risks. They likewise recommend screening for suicidal tendencies in patients.

"In this study, the risk of self-harm emergencies increased after bariatric surgery, underscoring the need for screening for suicide risk during follow-up," the researchers wrote.

Photo: David Holt | Flickr

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