Harvard Health Letter

Ask the doctor: Is abdominal surgery riskier if I am overweight?

Q. I am overweight and need abdominal surgery. Does being overweight make the surgery more difficult and add to the complication rate?

A. We all have a fair amount of fatty tissue in our abdominal cavities that surgeons must deal with during abdominal operations. The more fat you have, the more difficult the operation is for the surgeon. Excessive fatty tissue impairs access to the surgical site. It can also make the surgery itself — the cutting of tissue — more complex. Operations on obese patients tend to take longer for these and other reasons.

On the other hand, some studies have shown that surgical outcomes may be better for patients who are overweight. Extra fat may be a bit of physiological buffer against the trauma of surgery. And being underweight is definitely a problem for surgical patients if they've lost weight because of cancer or malnutrition.

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