Study Finds Weight-Loss Surgery Vastly Improves Rheumatoid Arthritis

If you are obese and have rheumatoid arthritis, weight-loss surgery may greatly improve your symptoms, and there’s even a good chance that it may cause the disease to go into remission.

These are the findings of a 2015 study published in the journal Arthritis Care & Research.

A team of researchers at Harvard Medical School’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston reviewed the records of 53 patients with RA who had weight-loss – or bariatric – surgery in the 20 years between 1993 and 2013 and found that only 6 percent of patients were classified as having moderate to severe disease activity 12 months after surgery, compared with 57 percent before they underwent the operation.

While this result is impressive, what’s even more striking is that almost six years after surgery, a 74 percent of the study’s patients were classified as being in remission, compared with 24 percent who achieved remission with RA medications before they had surgery. And of these, more than one-quarter – 28 percent – did not need any medication at all.

“This is a really exciting finding,” says Dr. Jeffrey Sparks, the lead author of the study and a rheumatologist and associate physician in the Division of Rheumatology, Immunology and Allergy at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “Across the board, [surgery] vastly improved RA symptoms by every measure, including lower markers of inflammation” he says.

More than a decade ago, the National Institutes of Health recommended bariatric surgery as the most effective means of losing weight and maintaining that loss long-term in people who are morbidly obese.

In this group of patients, surgery produced an average weight loss of 90 pounds or about 70 percent of the excess weight above normal body mass index.

Weight loss often reduces the incidence of obesity-related complications, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, gastroesophageal reflux disease, obstructive sleep apnea and respiratory disease, depression, infertility and urinary stress incontinence.

Dr. Daniel El-Bogdadi, who is an assistant clinical professor of medicine at Georgetown University School of Medicine in the District of Columbia also cautions that bariatric surgery can’t cure RA. “Although it may improve the RA, it does not halt the disease process,” he stresses. In addition, there is benefit on all joints from weight loss due to reduced loading of the joints. This benefit is lost in patients who attempt traditional weight loss methods such as diet and exercise as most patients will regain weight and the strain on the joints returns with the weight.

If you are morbidly obese and have RA and decide to undergo bariatric surgery, “the improvement in RA may be an added bonus,” Sparks says, noting, “RA itself is not reason enough to consider the surgery.”

And if you are thinking about having bariatric surgery, it’s important to carefully consider your choices.

It is important for patients to know what their options are, as well as the potential risks of different procedures. To find out if a bariatric procedure is right for you, setup a free consult with one of our Surgeons who will discuss your personal health situation and how bariatric surgery may be able to help you. Call us today to set up your consult at (888) 278-7952.