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Weight-loss surgery linked to increased suicide risk

Researchers followed about 8,800 patients for three years before and after they had surgery to lose weight

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Patients may be more likely to harm themselves or attempt suicide after weight-loss surgery, a Canadian study suggests.

Researchers followed about 8,800 patients for three years before and after they had surgery to lose weight. Most of them had a common type of bariatric surgery known as gastric bypass, which helps patients shed excess pounds by reducing stomach capacity from about three pints to the size of a shot glass.

During the first three years after surgery, 111 patients received emergency care for self-inflicted injuries, or roughly 1 percent of people in the study. While small, the risk of these emergencies was 54 percent higher after surgery than it was before.

Most of these incidents of self-inflicted harm happened one to three years after bariatric surgeries, suggesting that patients may need more long-term behavioral healthcare than they’re getting, said Dr. Amir Ghaferi, author of an editorial accompanying the study in JAMA Surgery.

“Unfortunately, long term postoperative follow-up for bariatric patients is not ideal,” Ghaferi, a bariatric surgery specialist at the University of Michigan and the Ann Arbor Veterans Administration Healthcare System.

“This study should not dissuade patients with mental health problems from seeking bariatric surgery,” Ghaferi added. Instead, it should encourage healthcare providers to target these patients for improved follow-up care, he said.

Surgical weight loss has gained traction in recent years as a growing number of extremely obese patients turn to this option after failing to achieve significant weight loss through diet, exercise or medication. Like all surgery, it isn’t risk free, and bariatric operations in particular carry a risk of malnutrition.