COVID-19 Prompts More People Turn to Weight Loss Surgery

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A Cleveland Clinic study shows that among patients who have obesity and who tested positive for COVID-19, a past history of bariatric surgery was significantly associated with a lower risk of hospital and intensive care unit admission.

The results were published in the journal of Surgery for Obesity and Related Diseases.

Fear of death or severe illness from COVID-19 is fueling interest in bariatric surgeries, according to doctors.

26-year-old Lauren Hughes said 2020 started out with a commitment to lose weight but then the pandemic hit.

"Even the few months we were quarantine, everybody was like, 'now's the time to get into shape,' and you know for me it was, 'okay, yeah, I want to start exercising,' but my joints hurt too much because of my weight or I couldn't go to the gym because they were closed.  I couldn't work out with anybody because of COVID," said Hughes.

As the pandemic wore on, reality set in.

"My family actually owns a funeral home and so seeing the people that have died from COVID and how a high percentage of the people that are dying are obese or overweight. It was really in my face that this was an actual issue," said Hughes.

One international study that people with obesity who contracted SARS-CoV-2 were 113% more likely than people of healthy weight to land in the hospital, 74% more likely to be admitted to an ICU and 48% more likely to die.

Obesity also puts someone at higher risk for diabetes, and high blood pressure, two other high risk conditions.

"You have that group of people that understand that if they don't take care of their weight issues, their condition with excess weight and they end up catching COVID, they won't do as well as people who weigh less," said Medical City Frisco Bariatric Surgeon Dr. Folahan Ayoola, who said he's seen more patients this year pull the trigger on the weight loss surgery they had been considering.

Bariatric surgeries, considered elective, were put on pause during the first round of pandemic restrictions in the summer.

Ayoola said, that may not be the case anymore for some.

"Over the course of the year, that has been challenged as we are trying to deal with a medical condition that could be the difference between life and death if someone caught COVID," said Ayoola.

Hughes had her surgery on August 10.  She has lost 90 pounds and is 100 pounds away from her goal.

"I'm still nervous to get COVID but I know that I'm in a much better place than I was three months ago if I were to, unfortunately, get it," said Hughes.

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