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Lap band failures drive many to safer weight loss surgeries


Jessica Furby struggled with weight most of her life, constantly dieting and exercising to shed pounds. But nothing seemed to help. By her 22nd birthday, she tipped the scales at more than 300 pounds.

So, in 2011, while a college student in Pittsburgh, she decided to have lap band surgery. Doctors placed a synthetic belt around her stomach to limit what she could eat. It seemed like a good option at the time and, after her surgery, she lost about 60 pounds.

But the benefits didn’t last. In the months that followed, she had pain and other complications. Worst of all, she eventually regained all the weight she’d lost – and then some. By 2016, she weighed 350 pounds and was becoming prediabetic.

That’s when she decided to have the band removed and, on her doctor’s recommendation, had gastric sleeve surgery.

Studies have found the sleeve surgeries carry fewer complications and a much higher success rate than lap band procedures, which Ms. Furby’s experience has confirmed.

Today, at age 32, she’s down to 288 pounds and says she is on her way to hitting her ultimate goal of 200 pounds.

“The surgery has been a godsend,” she said. “I have not had any complications with it at all. The sleeve was life-changing for me.”

Ms. Furby’s experience has become more common as the risks, complications, and failures of lap band surgeries have been rising over the past decade.

More band patients are choosing to have conversion surgery to gastric sleeve and gastric bypass. At the same time, fewer doctors are doing lap band procedures, because of problems like Ms. Furby’s.

According to the latest figures from the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery, lap band procedures account for fewer than 1% of the 256,000 bariatric operations done in the United States each year, while gastric sleeves add up to nearly 60%. That makes sleeve surgeries the most commonly performed bariatric operation today.

By comparison, 35% of bariatric surgeries were lap band procedures in 2011, while sleeve operations accounted for under 18%.

Ms. Furby’s surgeon, Anita P. Courcoulas, MD, said the trend is being driven by many of the things Ms.Furby experienced firsthand.

Dr. Courcoulas, chief of minimally invasive bariatric and general surgery at the University of Pittsburgh, said there are two main reasons for the decline in lap band procedures.

“It has been shown to be less effective for weight loss [than] other bariatric surgical procedures, and band intolerance often results in band removal,” she noted.

Gastric sleeve, followed by gastric bypass, are the two most commonly performed operations in the United States and worldwide, she said.

Dr. Courcoulas said the shift from gastric bypass to gastric sleeve procedures “is likely driven by the decline in the band usage, patient preferences for a less invasive operation, such as the sleeve compared to bypass, and surgeon preferences about which operation(s) to offer a given patient.”

Ali Aminian, MD, director of the Bariatric and Metabolic Institute at the Cleveland Clinic, agrees that lap band complications and failures, in addition to ineffective weight loss, are behind the trend, driving patients and doctors to choose safer and more effective procedures.

He said the Cleveland Clinic no longer does band operations, and he has done a lot of conversions.

“Around 50%-60% of [lap band] patients require reoperation to take care of the complications,” he says. “So, when you have a surgery where more than half of the time the patients require reoperation, we cannot claim that’s a safe operation.”


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