Elective surgery for obesity, a COVID-19 risk factor, on the rise

After pausing elective and nonurgent surgery early during the COVID-19 pandemic, hospitals are increasing the number of these procedures and seeing an uptick in patients seeking bariatric surgeries, which can help with weight loss, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Hospitals are seeing more patients interested in bariatric procedures, such as gastric bypasses, laparoscopic bands and gastric sleeve procedures. These procedures helps patients lose weight by making changes to the digestive system, including making the stomach smaller or making changes to the small intestine, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

Claims data from healthcare data company Perception Health show that bariatric procedures were nearly nonexistent in April when most healthcare organizations had suspended elective surgeries, but by June bariatric surgeries had increased to a higher level than the same month in 2019, the Journal reports.

Patient interest in bariatric procedures appears to be growing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, experts told the Journal. Obesity is a risk factor for the disease, with dozens of studies linking the condition to an increased risk of severe COVID-19 illness. The risk of death from COVID-19 also increases with an increase in body mass index, according to the CDC.

At Yale New Haven (Conn.) Health, bariatric surgery volume rose about 20 percent over the previous year after the system resumed elective procedures in June, John Morton, MD, system lead for surgical quality and bariatric services told the Journal.

"The only two surgeries that have been COVID-proof have been cancer and bariatric," he said.

Ali Aminian, MD, director of Cleveland Clinic's Bariatric and Metabolic Institute, shared a similar increase in interest in bariatric procedures. Patient intake for severely obese patients who wanted to undergo bariatric surgery jumped significantly during the summer, he said.

The demand for other elective surgeries has not fully recovered, an institute spokesperson told the Journal.

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