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Expert Q&A

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Can gastric bypass surgery reverse diabetes?

Asked by Sandra Kirk, Texas

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Is it true that obese people who have had gastric bypass surgery have experienced a reversal of diabetes condition?

Expert Bio Picture

Conditions Expert Dr. Otis Brawley Chief Medical Officer,
American Cancer Society

Expert answer

Many people who are overweight or morbidly obese have metabolic syndrome (which is also called pre-diabetes) or have frank diabetes, which is also called adult-onset diabetes, type 2 diabetes, or non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus (which, despite the name, may be treated with insulin). The hallmark of frank diabetes is high circulating levels of insulin and a resistance to that insulin, leading to higher-than-normal blood sugars. These require laboratory testing. Patients may experience thirst, frequent urination, blurred vision and tiredness.

Weight loss, by diet and exercise or by change in diet gastric bypass, very often improves insulin sensitivity and blood sugar control. Indeed, weight loss may eliminate the need for medical treatment of the condition. We in medicine usually still consider these folks diabetics, as they usually still have abnormal response to a high-sugar meal, but their blood sugar patterns are far better than before the weight loss and/or gastric bypass and their risk of diabetes complications is dramatically reduced. Successful weight loss treatment is highly advantageous. People with the metabolic syndrome or more severe diabetes are at higher risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke as well as kidney failure and peripheral artery disease. Peripheral artery disease is the leading cause of leg amputation. Diabetes is also a leading cause of blindness in the U.S.

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