Weight loss surgery can lower complications from COVID-19, new research suggests

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- For months, doctors have cautioned that obese patients who have COVID-19 are more likely to be hospitalized and need to be on ventilators.

And obesity can also raise the risk of death from coronavirus by as much as 50%.

That's why researchers are now looking at bariatric surgery as a way to lower those risks. Gastric bypass and other weight-loss surgeries are known as bariatric surgery.

They involve making changes to your digestive system to help you lose weight.

And bariatric surgery is done when diet and exercise have not worked or when there are serious health problems because of a person's weight.

Experts estimate that more than 70% of American adults are overweight or obese, and doctors say it can impair the immune system and increase the risk of serious illness from the coronavirus.

Dr. Ali Aminian is the director of the Bariatric and Metabolic Institute at Cleveland Clinic.

"COVID-19 has been a wake-up call that's shown the health consequences of obesity," he said.

A study done by Dr. Aminian and his colleagues at the Cleveland Clinic followed the cases of 363 COVID-19 patients.

Some had a past history of weight loss surgery, others didn't. They had a BMI of 40 or more at the time, and they tested positive for COVID-19.

"We found that, in patients with severe obesity, 42% required hospital admission after contracting COVID. However, in a group of patients who had bariatric surgery before, only 18% required hospital admission after COVID-19," said Aminian.

Doctors say 13% of the patients without surgery were admitted to the ICU, 7% needed ventilators, and 2% died. None of the patients who had bariatric surgery were admitted to the ICU, none needed ventilators and none died.

Doctors say the results suggest that after weight loss, patients become healthier and are better able to fight the virus.

If the results are confirmed by future studies, Aminian says these findings could add to the list of health benefits of bariatric surgery.

Other health problems bariatric surgery can help with include: heart disease and stroke, high blood pressure, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease or non-alcoholic steatohepatitis, sleep apnea and type 2 diabetes.
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