When Your Weight is Life Threatening

healthThere are some situations in which, despite your best efforts, you aren’t getting to your weight loss goal fast enough to protect your health. Your physician may talk with you about other options if you have a body mass index (BMI) of 27 or more, and you are already showing signs of obesity related illnesses, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, or sleep apnea. Bear in mind that strategies like medication and surgery are not magic solutions – they will only work if you continue to maintain a healthier lifestyle.

Weight Loss Medications – Prescription Strength


For a short-term jump-start to your weight loss, doctors might prescribe Phentermine, which is sold under the brand names Adipex-P and Suprenza. Phentermine works by suppressing appetite, which facilitates weight loss when coupled with healthy eating and exercise. This medication can occasionally cause side effects such as heart palpitations, dizziness, and shortness of breath. Any of these or other unusual physical sensations should be reported to your doctor without delay.


One of the most commonly prescribed weight loss medications is Orlistat, which is sold under the name Xenical. This is a stronger version of the product Alli that you can buy over-the-counter. Orlistat is approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (US FDA) to be used long-term – defined as more than 90-days. Note that it gives only a small boost to your weight loss, perhaps 5-7 pounds, above and beyond what you will accomplish by eating carefully and increasing physical activity.

If you have heard anything about Orlistat, it is probably the side effects, which are unpleasant if you eat too much fat in your diet. The drug blocks absorption of fat by the body, and it is passed through the digestive system and excreted during bowel movements. Too much fat and you might experience greasy bowel movements, which happen far more frequently than you might otherwise be used to. The primary caution with this medication is to take a vitamin at the same time, because Orlistat can block some nutrients from being absorbed as well.

Weight Loss with Surgery

Also known as bariatric surgery, weight loss surgery is very effective. However, it carries a potential for serious side effects. As a result, doctors won’t recommend surgery unless the benefits far outweigh the risks. Those with a BMI of 40 or more can be candidates, as well as those with a BMI of 35+ and existing obesity-related health problems.

The premise behind weight loss surgeries is to restrict the amount of food patients can fit in their stomachs. Alternatively, the surgery might instead create a situation where calories cannot be absorbed into the body.

Lap Band

Officially known as the laparoscopic adjustable gastric banding (LAGB) surgery, a lap band works like a belt around the stomach. You end up with a pouch on either side of the band, with just a small passage between the two. The plus side is that lap bands are minimally invasive, but the minus is that they are less effective than other surgeries.

Gastric Bypass Surgery

This is the most common weight loss surgery, because it is the most effective over the long term. The procedure involves creating a mini-stomach that is separate from the rest of the organ, then attaching the small intestine to the new, smaller pouch. Food passes through the mini-stomach directly into the intestines, avoiding the majority of the stomach’s area.

Biliopancreatic Diversion with Duodenal Switch

Perhaps the dramatic of all weight loss surgeries, this one actually removes most of the stomach. Because it is so invasive, specialists typically only recommend this option for individuals with a BMI of 50 or more. This technique is effective, but because less food is digested, patients are more likely to struggle with vitamin deficiencies and malnutrition. As a result, they must have long-term medical supervision after the procedure.

Choosing to move forward with medication or surgery is a difficult decision, but in certain situations it is the best solution to protect your health. Talk with your physician and your bariatric specialist about the risks involved, and whether the benefits make taking those risks worthwhile.

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