Divorce Surgery?

I have noticed that my patients who undergo successful bariatric surgery seem to get divorced at a higher-than-average rate.
I have noticed that my patients who undergo successful bariatric surgery seem to get divorced at a higher-than-average rate.

Over the last several years, bariatric surgery has gained significant traction as a treatment for obesity. I have seen this result in many success stories for patients struggling with obesity. Although bariatric surgery is just one of our tools in this struggle, it is a highly effective one—particularly for people who undergo gastric bypass or the gastric sleeve procedure.

These highly effective procedures generally result in a landslide of weight loss. However, while no surgery is risk-free, bariatric surgery comes with particularly serious risks. 

For one thing, this kind of surgery starts with a patient population where obesity itself can lead to comorbidities. Obese patients are also more prone to pulmonary embolism because of increased venous stasis.

But there is another “side effect” of bariatric surgery, one that may seem to be an odd result from the procedure. Throughout the years, I have noticed that my patients who undergo successful bariatric surgery seem to get divorced at a higher-than-average rate. It would have to be pretty high to be noticeable, given that the US divorce rate is about 50%.

In fact, review of the literature reveals that the rate of divorce after bariatric surgery may be as high as 75-85% in the first two years after surgery. If the bariatric patient was obese prior to the relationship, then the risk of divorce is even higher.

I suspect that the cause for this meteoric divorce rate is multifactorial. Often, with significant weight loss comes increased courage, self-esteem and self-confidence and improved overall health. This more positive sense of self might be just the boost someone who was in a poor marriage needed to leave the relationship. On the other hand, bariatric patients who were in a good relationship before the surgery are more likely to happily adjust to the results of the radical weight loss.

Based on these findings, it seems that it would be helpful for prospective bariatric patients if their pre-surgery counseling included education regarding potential marital stressors that may occur in the wake of weight-loss surgery.  Also, during the first two years, postsurgery health-care providers should be prepared to offer marital counseling referrals.

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