Can bariatric surgery cure diabetes?

When you’re living with adult-onset diabetes, there’s a lot to think about. Even when you take your medication regularly and try to keep your blood sugar in check, type 2 diabetes tends to get worse over time. But there’s something you may not have considered: Treating diabetes with surgical weight loss. Here’s how it works. 

Obesity and Type 2 Diabetes

Obesity is the No. 1 cause of adult-onset diabetes. In Ohio, more than 30 percent of people have obesity and more than 10 percent of people have adult-onset diabetes. These common circumstances can lead to serious health risks, said Daniel McCullough, MD, a bariatric surgeon with ProMedica Physicians. 

“Very few people who take medications for type 2 diabetes will ever be cured, and it’s almost always progressive,” he says. Type 2 diabetes can lead to heart, kidney, nerve and vision problems, infections in your feet and skin diseases. 

Finding Long-Term Solutions

Some patients trying to improve their diabetes turn to medical weight loss or taking medications to reduce their weight. However, statistically, almost all these patients gain the weight back, so their diabetes doesn’t get better. 

Surgical weight loss, on the other hand, has an excellent success rate in curing adult-onset diabetes for patients who have obesity. According to Dr. McCullough, more than 70 percent of patients see complete remission, and more than 90 percent of patients see improvement in their diabetes for a long period of time. 

Stopping Disease in Its Tracks

Bariatric surgery works to eliminate diabetes through a combination of weight loss and hormonal changes. The effects of this long-term change are immediate, with patients often able to start dramatically dropping the amount of insulin or antidiabetic medication they’re taking within a week or two after surgery. The key is to get bariatric surgery before diabetes can do long-term damage to your heart, kidneys or other parts of your body.  

A New Way of Life

Bariatric surgery is now covered by most insurance providers, and it’s considered a low-risk procedure when done by experienced surgeons like those at ProMedica. You must be able to commit to keeping a healthy diet and exercising after the surgery, but for most patients, it’s a welcome step into a new way of life. 

“Far and away the biggest regret my patients have one year after surgery is that they didn’t do the operation sooner,” Dr. McCullough said. “They wish they’d gotten it done when they were younger because of how much better they feel, and how much of a positive impact it has on their life.” 

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