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Jonathan Cluett, M.D.

Surgical Risks Upped With Obese

By July 20, 2012

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Many overweight patients feel as though they are not treated fairly by doctors.  I think that's probably true, but there are some concerns that doctors should have when treating obese patients.  When considering orthopedic surgery, the risk of having surgery rises dramatically for patients who are significantly overweight.

A recent study of patients undergoing spinal fusion surgery, a common surgical procedure used for a number of spine conditions, found that obese patients had about twice the complication rate of normal weight patients.  For almost all types of common complications including infection and blood clot, the rate for problems in the obese patients was double that of the normal weight patients.

That doesn't give anyone a right to not treat all patients fairly.  However, part of being fair is understanding the risks of performing any surgical procedure.  Being aware of these facts may change the way patients who are severely overweight are treated.  Obese patients should discuss with their doctor what additional risks they might have, and what they can do to lower the chance of having a bad outcome.

Source: Kalanithi PA, et al. "Morbid Obesity Increases Cost and Complication Rates in Spinal Arthrodesis" Spine. 37(11):982-988, May 15, 2012.

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