Psychiatric Drug Use More Than Doubles After Weight-Loss Surgery

By Victoria Kim 05/25/16

A Danish study found that gastric bypass patients' prescription drug use decreased post-surgery while neuropsychiatric drug use rose.

 Psychiatric Drug Use More Than Doubles After Weight-Loss Surgery

Patients who underwent gastric bypass surgery went on to use fewer prescription drugs overall, but according to a new study, their use of antidepressants and antipsychotic drugs more than doubled after the popular weight-loss surgery.

Researchers studied 9,000 Danish patients who underwent Roux-en-Y gastric bypass surgery—currently the most common weight-loss surgery—between 2006 and 2010. They studied the prescription drug habits of the patients before and after the procedure, and compared them to more than 99,000 people who did not have the surgery.

In the six months before the surgery, more people in the bypass group (80%) were taking a prescription drug than in the non-surgery group (50%). But three years after the surgery, the bypass group was using fewer prescription drugs than the comparison group—in large part because the surgery helped address health issues related to obesity, such as diabetes and high blood pressure. They no longer needed drugs to regulate blood sugar, cholesterol and blood pressure.

But though the use of these drugs decreased substantially after surgery, the researchers noted that the use of neuropsychiatric drugs like antidepressants and antipsychotics was higher in the bypass group—both before and after surgery. Before surgery, the bypass group used neuropsychiatric drugs twice as much as the non-surgery group—and after surgery, they used even more of such drugs.

Lead author Dr. Sigrid Bjerge Gribsholt of Aarhus University Hospital told Reuters that despite patients being in better health after the surgery and being able to rely less on drugs to regulate health, weight-loss surgery “may not on the average have [a] beneficial effect on psychological issues or psychiatric conditions.” 

Depression and obesity often goes hand-in-hand. “Obesity surgery is not a cure for everything,” said Gribsholt. “For example, psychological problems or pain may still be present—or even arise—after surgery, necessitating medical treatment.”

Other studies have drawn similar conclusions. There is also a direct connection between alcohol abuse and bypass surgery. A 2013 report published in JAMA Surgery concluded that people who undergo gastric bypass are more likely to develop alcohol abuse issues in the years following the procedure, suggesting that they were substituting alcohol for food. 

Another report from 2014 found that bypass patients sought treatment for eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia years after the procedure, also suggesting that losing weight wasn't a cure-all for their underlying issues. 

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