For some diabetics who undergo gastric bypass surgery, diabetes goes away at least temporarily. But new research shows the procedure doesn’t “cure” diabetes and for most people it will return within five to eight years.
The 14-year study, published in the journal Obesity Surgery, found that about two-thirds of surgery patients had an initial remission of diabetes, but the condition returned for nearly all patients in the long run.
"Our results suggest that, after gastric surgery, diabetes stays away for longer in those people whose diabetes was less severe and at an earlier stage at the time of surgery," said lead researcher Dr. David E. Arterburn, an internist at the Group Health Research Institute. "Gastric surgery isn't for everyone. But this evidence suggests that, once you have diabetes and are severely obese, you should strongly consider it, even though it doesn't seem to be a cure for most patients."
For the study, researchers tracked 4,434 obese diabetics at Kaiser Permanente Northern California, Kaiser Permanente Southern California, and HealthPartners who underwent gastric bypass surgery from 1995 to 2008.
Arterburn said the investigators were “excited to learn that diabetes can remit after gastric surgery,” even though the procedure does not cure the disease. He noted having had a long period of post-surgery remission is likely to have many positive effects, such as fewer complications of diabetes, less damage to eyes and kidneys, and fewer heart attacks, strokes, and deaths.
Arterburn said it’s unclear whether diabetes relapse happens because of gaining weight back or because of underlying the progression of diabetes.
"Diabetes is an increasingly common disease that tends to keep getting worse relentlessly," Arterburn said. "Prevention is by far the best medicine for diabetes. Once you have diabetes, it's really hard to get rid of. Attempts to treat it with intensive lifestyle changes and medical management have been disappointing."
More than 25 million Americans have diabetes — a figure that is projected to double by 2050. The disease accounts for 5 percent of all U.S. healthcare spending and raises the risk of blindness, kidney disease, heart attacks, strokes, and deaths.