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Evan P Nadler

Biliary complication rates similar for kids and adults after weight-loss surgery

Evan P Nadler

“We definitely need more research, across a more diverse population, to understand the mechanisms behind this higher likelihood of acute pancreatitis in pediatric patients,” says Evan Nadler, M.D., “More importantly, this study provides a proof point that weight-loss surgery doesn’t pose any higher risk of biliary complications for kids than it does for adults.”

Adolescents and teens experience biliary side effects after weight-loss surgery at about the same rate as adults. However, in younger patients, the symptoms are more likely to manifest as pancreatic inflammation, or acute pancreatitis, according to a new study published in the November issue of the journal Obesity.

“Biliary issues after laparoscopic sleeve gastrectomy occur with about the same frequency in pediatric patients as they do in adults,” says Evan Nadler, M.D., senior author on the study and director of the Bariatric Surgery Program at Children’s National Hospital. “We were surprised, however, to find that the small number of pediatric patients who do experience these complications seem to be more likely to have acute pancreatitis as a result. In adults, it’s more commonly the gall bladder that acts up as opposed to the pancreas.”

The study included 309 patients without previous or concurrent history of biliary disease or gallstones who had undergone laparoscopic sleeve gastrectomy at Children’s National. Twenty-one patients, or 6.7% of the cohort, were diagnosed with biliary disease after surgery. Sixty-two percent of the pediatric patients with biliary disease also showed signs of acute pancreatitis, while only one-third of those with post-operative biliary disease presented with a gallstone blockage, or biliary colic. In adults, biliary colic is a primary symptom after surgery and far fewer adults experience acute pancreatitis.

“We definitely need more research, across a more diverse population, to understand the mechanisms behind this higher likelihood of acute pancreatitis in pediatric patients. More importantly, this study provides a proof point that weight-loss surgery doesn’t pose any higher risk of biliary complications for kids than it does for adults.”

Obesity’s editorial team selected the study as one of the Top 5 most innovative scientific research studies to prevent and treat obesity in 2019. It appears in a special section of the November 2019 print edition. Dr. Nadler will present his findings during the Obesity Journal Symposium on Nov. 5, 2019, as part of ObesityWeek®, the annual meeting of The Obesity Society.

“We’ve got one of the largest, if not the largest, weight-loss surgery programs dedicated solely to caring for children and adolescents,” adds Dr. Nadler. “That gives us a unique ability to collect and analyze a statistically significant sample of pediatric-specific patient data and really contribute a better understanding of how bariatric surgery specifically impacts younger patients.”

In late October 2019, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued guidance with the aim of providing severely obese teens easier access to bariatric surgery.

“Our study is just the latest contribution to a significant body of evidence that weight-loss surgery should be considered a viable treatment approach for children and teenagers with severe obesity, an idea that is now endorsed by the nation’s largest organization of pediatricians,” he points out.

The Obesity Journal Symposium occurs on Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019, from 3:30 – 5:00 p.m. at the Mandalay Bay South Convention Center in Las Vegas, Nev. ObesityWeek® is a partnership of The Obesity Society and the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery.

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Presentation: Pattern of Biliary Disease Following Laparoscopic Sleeve Gastrectomy in Adolescents

Session: Obesity Journal Symposium

Date/Time: 11/5/2019, 3:30 pm – 5:00 pm

Co-authors: Jun Tashiro , Arunachalam A. Thenappan, and Evan P. Nadler

child measuring his stomach

Cognitive function does not predict weight-loss outcome for adolescents

child measuring his stomach

Though young people with intellectual disabilities or cognitive impairment have greater rates of obesity and other comorbidities that impact their health and well-being, primary care providers are often reluctant to discuss or refer these patients for weight-loss surgery due to concerns about their ability to assent to both the surgery and the ongoing diet and lifestyle changes after surgery.

However, a study in Pediatrics authored by psychologists at Children’s National Health System finds that these young people, including those with Down syndrome, have similar weight-loss trajectories to those with typical cognitive function after bariatric surgery. The study is the first to look at post-surgical outcomes for this subgroup of adolescent bariatric surgery patients.

“It’s challenging to ensure that an adolescent who is cognitively impaired understands what it means to undergo a surgical procedure like bariatric surgery, but we do find ways to ensure assent whenever possible, and make sure the patient also has a guardian capable of consent,” says Sarah Hornack, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist at Children’s National and the study’s first author. “A very important determinant of post-surgical success for any young candidate, however, is a support structure to help them with weight-loss surgery requirements. Often, we see that adolescents with lower cognitive function already have a well-established support system in place to assist them with other care needs, that can easily adapt to providing structure and follow through after weight-loss surgery, too.”

The study reviewed outcomes for 63 adolescents ranging in age from 13 to 24 years old with an average body mass index of 51.2, all of whom were part of the bariatric surgery program at Children’s National Health System. The participants were diagnosed with cognitive impairment or intellectual disability via standardized cognitive assessments as part of a preoperative psychological evaluation or through a previous diagnosis. This study adds to the body of research that is helping to create standard criteria for bariatric surgery in adolescents and teenagers.

Children’s National is one of only a few children’s hospitals with accreditation from the Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery Accreditation and Quality Improvement Program of the American College of Surgeons and the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery to offer bariatric surgery for adolescents with severe obesity. The extraordinary diversity of the patient population in Washington, D.C., including high rates of young people with obesity, allows the team to collect more comprehensive information about successful interventions across subgroups, including cognitive impairment or developmental disabilities, than nearly every other center in the United States.

“We’re happy to contribute evidence that can help families and care providers make informed health decisions for young people with intellectual disabilities or cognitive impairments. So many families are hoping to make sure that their children, despite disabilities, can be as healthy as possible in the long term,” says Eleanor Mackey, Ph.D., who is also a clinical psychologist at Children’s National and served as the study’s senior author. “Though the sample size is small, it does give credence to the idea that for many adolescents and teenagers, weight loss surgery may be a really viable option regardless of pre-existing conditions such as intellectual ability or cognitive function.”