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Large database analysis suggests safety of bariatric surgery in seniors



Gastric bypass and sleeve gastrectomy procedures for weight loss should not be denied to patients older than 60 years, despite a slight increase in unadjusted mortality rates, according to an analysis of data from the Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery Accreditation and Quality Improvement Program (MBSAQIP).

Based on data that was collected in 2015 and submitted to MBSAQIP, “bariatric surgery is safe in the elderly, even in those 70 years old and older,” reported Tallal Zeni, MD, director of the Michigan Bariatric Institute in Livonia.

Dr. Tallal Zeni is the director of the Michigan Bariatric Institute in Livonia.

Dr. Tallal Zeni

Although the analysis was drawn from one of the largest datasets to evaluate the safety of bariatric surgery in the elderly, it is not the first to conclude that morbidity and mortality rates are acceptably low, according to Dr. Zeni. This may explain why the proportion of bariatric procedures performed in patients 60 years of age or older has been increasing. In figures provided by Dr. Zeni, that proportion rose from 2.7% during 1999-2005 to 10.1% during 2009-2013.

There were 16,568 patients older than age 60 years entered into the MBSAQIP database in 2015. When those were compared with the 117,443 younger patients, the unadjusted rates of morbidity (6.5% vs. 6.0%) and mortality (0.3% vs. 0.1%) were higher for the older patients, but “they are close,” according to Dr. Zeni. Both rates reached significance by the conventional definition (P < .05), but he suggested that they are lower in this study than those in prior studies of MBSAQIP datasets and that they are acceptable relative to the anticipated health benefits.

Above the age of 60 years, no correlation could be made between increasing age and increasing risk of morbidity, mortality, or rate of reoperations, according to Dr. Zeni.

Why should bariatric surgery be considered in older patients? He cited data from a study that showed the life expectancy in a 70-year-old without functional limitations is 13 years. As a result, he added, “it behooves us to provide them with the best quality of life we can.”

Relative to prior MBSAQIP evaluations of bariatric surgery in the elderly, the proportion of patients undergoing sleeve gastrectomy relative to gastric bypass has been increasing, Dr. Zeni reported. In the analysis, approximately two-thirds of the bariatric procedures were performed with sleeve gastrectomy, which is higher relative to what previous MBSAQIP analyses have shown.

Based on rates of morbidity for those two surgical approaches in the analysis, that trend makes sense. While the higher 30-day mortality for gastric bypass, compared with sleeve gastrectomy, was not significant (0.38% vs. 0.26%; P = .221), all-cause morbidity was almost two times greater for those undergoing gastric bypass than it was for those undergoing sleeve gastrectomy (10.61% vs. 5.81%; P < .001), Dr. Zeni reported.

However, some of that difference may be explained by baseline disparities between the two groups. In the gastric bypass group, there were higher rates of preoperative diabetes (54% vs. 40%; P < .001), sleep apnea (57% vs. 50%; P < .001) and hyperlipidemia (59% vs. 54%; P < .001). Also, gastric bypass patients were more likely to have a history of a previous bariatric procedure (11% vs. 8.5%; P < .001) and to be in the American Society of Anesthesiologists Physical Status score of 3 (84% vs. 80%; P < .001), according to Dr. Zeni.

The specific complications more common in the gastric bypass group than the sleeve gastrectomy group included anastomotic leak (0.56% vs. 0.3%; P = .017), surgical site infection (1.74% vs. 0.61%; P < .001), pneumonia (0.87% vs. 0.32%; P < .001), and bleeding (1.14% vs. 0.5%; P = .024). Although the average operating time was 40 minutes longer in the bypass group, there were no significant differences in thromboembolic complications.

Overall, despite a modest increase in the risk of complications for bariatric surgery in elderly patients, that risk can be considered acceptable in relation to the potential health benefits, according to Dr. Zeni. He suggested that the data might encourage further growth in the rates of bariatric procedures among patients older than 60 years.

Dr. Zeni reports no relevant financial relationships.

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