Study Finds That Bariatric Surgery May Lower Risk for Severe Liver Disease

Study Finds That Bariatric Surgery May Lower Risk for Severe Liver Disease

Alex Brecher

Have you been considering bariatric surgery? When weighing the pros and cons, you may want to consider a new study published in the November 2021 edition of JAMA. It found that bariatric surgery patients had a lower risk for poor outcomes related to liver disease. Here are some details of the study and what it may mean for weight loss surgery patients.

Obesity Risks and Fatty Liver Disease and Obesity

Obesity is linked to many poor health outcomes and risks. Bariatric surgery is already known to improve many of them. Diabetes and prediabetes, high blood pressure, sleep apnea, high cholesterol, and can all be improved with weight loss and bariatric surgery. 

Fatty liver disease is another condition related to obesity. In this case, it is not related to alcohol consumption, though the damage may appear similar to the damage seen in people who abuse alcohol. You may not have symptoms, but you may notice fatigue, abdominal pain, jaundiced (yellow) eyes, or red palms. Being overweight and having high blood sugar, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure are all risk factors for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

Fatty liver disease does not always cause problems. But for some people, the condition could eventually lead to cirrhosis, or scarring of the liver. This is non reversible. Losing weight if you are overweight is a common strategy for treating fatty liver disease.

Study Comparing Bariatric Surgery Patients to Control

The study published in JAMA looked at 1,158 patients with obesity, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, and liver fibrosis, which indicates more advanced or severe liver disease. They were divided into two groups. One group, including 650 patients, had bariatric surgery. The other group did not. The surgical group participants had either roux-en-y gastric bypass or sleeve gastrectomy procedures.

Lower Risk for Poor Liver Outcomes Among Bariatric Surgery Patients

Researchers followed the patients for 7 years. They looked for outcomes related to severe liver disease, such as liver cancer, liver transplants, and cirrhosis. They found that the group with bariatric surgery had far fewer liver events. 

  • 5 of 650 bariatric surgery patients had severe liver outcomes, while 40 of 508 non-surgery participants had such outcomes. 
  • Participants in the bariatric surgery group were more than two-thirds less likely to have a stroke, heart attack, or death related to cardiac problems. 

Those in the bariatric surgery group had complications on par with the rates expected from weight loss surgery.

Another Benefit of Weight Loss from Bariatric Surgery

The results of this study are promising for patients who may be at high risk for severe liver disease due to non-alcoholic fatty liver. Researchers chalked up the liver benefits to weight loss. For patients who have tried other methods of losing weight and been unsuccessful long-term, this is one more consideration when deciding whether to have weight loss surgery.

As always when considering weight loss surgery, it is important to talk over every aspect with your doctor, including possible risks and benefits. Be sure your doctor knows all of your concerns and your entire health history, and do not be afraid to ask for tests if you are unsure of your health status.

Bariatric surgeryLiver health