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University of Alberta research sheds light on surgical risks linked to severe obesity

WATCH ABOVE: A local medical team wants to get the word out about the risks with severely obese patients when it comes to emergency surgery. Su-Ling Goh explains.

EDMONTON – New research out of the University of Alberta is delving into the heightened risks faced by severely obese patients going through emergency surgery.

The study looked at 111 patients treated at the U of A between 2009 and 2011 who had a body mass index of 35 or higher. A healthy BMI ranges between 18 and 25.

Researchers found 40 per cent of the patients studied ended up in an Intensive Care Unit, one-third of the patients required multiple surgeries and 17 per cent of patients did not survive. Researchers say the heaviest patients had the highest complication rates.

“Even though these patients are taking in a lot of calories, a lot of them are empty calories. They (the calories) are not coming with associated vitamins and minerals and essential fatty acids that the body needs to run well,” explained Suzana Kupper, a general surgery resident at the U of A and lead author of the study.

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“Because of this, they have impaired healing essentially relating to this malnutrition of obesity. A diminished ability to heal may explain the substantial need for ICU support, re-operation and the high mortality observed in our study.”

READ MORE: Is obesity an illness? U.S. medical association recognizes condition as official disease

Patients with severe obesity often have underlying health conditions such as high blood pressure or diabetes. Researchers say these conditions increase their risk of post-surgery complications.

“These patients are at such high risk that we have to focus on being able to rehabilitate them quickly, and also focus on nutrition and do as much in hospital to be able to try to prevent any type of complication in their course and be able to get them home safely,” explained Dr. Rachel Khadaroo, an assistant professor in the U of A’s Department of Surgery and co-author of the study.

According to Statistics Canada, in 2013, 19 per cent of Canadians over 18 were classified as obese.

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