Weight Loss Surgery Increases Suicide Risk

Weight loss surgery can reduce the risk of life-threatening diseases, like type 2 diabetes, but it may increase the risk of suicide, a new study shows.

A new study finds that people who are severely obese and undergo weight loss surgery could have a higher risk of suicide in the years following the surgery.

Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania examined the deaths of nearly 17,000 Pennsylvania residents who had undergone bariatric surgery within a ten-year time period. Of these patients, 31 people had later committed suicide, according to researchers.

The overall suicide rate for people who had weight loss surgery was 6.6 per 10,000 people. The study showed a marked difference in the suicide rate between genders: 13.7 per 10,000 men and 5.2 per 10,000 women. Researchers then compared these rates with the U.S. suicide rate of the general population, which is 2.4 per 10,000 men and 5.2 per 10,000 men.

Although the number of people who had committed suicide after receiving bariatric surgery was more than double when compared to the general population, the authors of the study said that the findings do not imply that weight loss surgery is the direct cause of more suicides.

Lead researcher Dr. Hilary A. Tindle said that the reasons for the increased suicide risk is unclear, since her study relied only on death certificate data. Researchers were not able to look into the details surrounding each person’s suicide and whether they suffered from any emotional problems. Dr. Tindle told Reuter’s Health that depression or other mental health problems before bariatric surgery could be to blame for the increased number of suicides.

It is common for people who are severely overweight to suffer from depression, including patients who choose to undergo bariatric surgery, according to Dr. Tindle. Researchers also speculate whether pre-existing psychological problems could get worse if patients become disappointed with their lack of weight loss results.

Bariatric surgery has been proven to resolve numerous serious health conditions, such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and sleep apnea. Health professionals currently recommend patients be monitored for a period of six months after surgery. In the University of Pittsburgh study, 30 percent of suicides among the patient cohort occurred within two years of the procedure, and 70 percent occurred within three years. Given these findings, researchers suggest that post-operative weight loss surgery patients should be monitored for a longer period of time after their surgery.

The study findings appeared recently in the American Journal of Medicine.


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2 Responses

  1. Teresa Talkington

    I’m about 5+ yrs post RNY; Dr Provost did my surgery in Dallas. My preop weight was approximately 500#, my lowest weight was 265# and I fluctuate 30-40lbs. I have gotten rid of all of my “fat” clothes so that I have to keep my weight controlled, otherwise I have nothing to wear.

    I can certainly understand why one would become suicidal after WLS. I battle with depression, both before and after my RNY. As far as feeling suicidal, I have had those thoughts and feelings several times, but never acted upon them.

    My biggest issue is the body image difficulties that I now have as a result of all of this redundant skin that is hanging off of my body. My breasts are so saggy that I have difficulty finding a bra that works; my abdomen hangs and swings when I walk. When I look in the mirror, I still feel like the ugly fat person I was before surgery, just a bit thinner with all this skin. And being intimate with a partner is difficult when one looks and feels like I do.

    I struggle with infections in the skin folds that are a constant battle for me to keep under control and are probably the cause of the multiple infections I’ve had since 2002.

    I have been wanting to get re-constructive surgery, but no one will touch me because of my history of recurrent infections and because I still have more weight to lose. Over the years, my pouch has gradually stretched so that I no longer feel full. It’s a constant battle to not overeat.

    I know that I need a revision but I’m not sure if Medicare will authorize payment for the revision as well as a body and breast lift. I could probably argue that it’s medically necessary with all of the infections that’s I’ve had over the years.

    To get back to the topic of the post, I think there are many factors that would cause one to commit suicide after WLS…..my theory is negative body image, being disappointed in one’s weight-loss results, continuing depression, and lack of support at home.

  2. admin

    Teresa, get your doctor to document the recurrent infections caused by the redundant skin. If you have insurance coverage, this should be sufficient to have your insurance carrier pay for plastic surgery to have the excess skin removed. This can help tremendously with your body image, as well. But remember, you are not your body — you are amazing as a person, inside and out!


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