Weight-Loss Drugs and Bariatric Surgery Are Becoming a Dynamic Duo

(PatriotWise.com) — Doctors are often pairing bariatric surgery with anti-obesity drugs like Wegovy to ensure that patients maintain weight loss, Axios reported.

Surgeons say that taking anti-obesity medications following bariatric surgery helps those with severe obesity maintain weight loss. However, combining the two makes weight loss more expensive for insurance companies already dealing with the high cost of the medications alone.

Between 2021 and 2022, the number of bariatric surgeries in the US increased after anti-obesity drugs known as GLP-1 agonists hit the market. The number of patients prescribed GLP-1 following bariatric surgery more than tripled between 2021 and 2023.

GLP-1 drugs help patients lose between 15 and 20 percent of their weight. While GLP-1s must be used long-term to maintain weight loss, many patients aren’t staying on them due to side effects, the high cost, or ongoing shortages.

Those undergoing bariatric surgery lose up to 35 percent of their weight. Unlike the medications, surgery is a one-time procedure.

However, bariatric surgery isn’t right for every obese patient since it is highly invasive and has a higher risk of complications than other weight-loss treatments, including GLP-1s.

In 2023, about 16 percent of patients were prescribed a GLP-1 following bariatric surgery.

Johnson & Johnson, the maker of the devices used in bariatric surgeries, has said the medications are “complementary” to the surgery.

Marina Kurian of the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery told Axios that on medications alone, patients will only lose a certain amount of weight. For patients who have to significantly reduce their body weight, bariatric surgery should be considered. Kurian added that some patients will need both surgery and medications.

Around 20 to 35 percent of patients who undergo bariatric surgery will either gain back most of the weight or fail to reach a specific body mass index target. Combining the drugs with bariatric surgery allows for “significant weight loss” compared to the surgery alone, according to a study published in the Journal of the Endocrine Society.

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