How stigma affects patients after surgery

Dr Yitka Graham, a senior lecturer in public health, has produced a ground-breaking piece of research into how bariatric patients adjust to life after surgery. Healthcare professionals will be able to use her findings to support patients pre- and post-operatively by raising awareness of issues that they may encounter in social situations, discussing how other patients have dealt with these situations and how they might cope themselves.

The study, carried out by researchers from the Faculty of Health Sciences and Wellbeing, University of Sunderland, looked at the experiences of patients who underwent bariatric surgery and how it affected their lives and social interactions. The researchers found that social aspects of bariatric surgery did not appear to be widely understood by those who had not undergone bariatric surgery.

So far there has been little research into patient experiences of daily life and social interactions after bariatric surgery. Now AHPs can look at the paper –  ‘Patient experiences of adjusting to life in the first 2 years after bariatric surgery: a qualitative study’, published in Clinical Obesity ( doi: 10.1111/cob.12205) – for guidance.

Dr Graham’s paper found that after bariatric surgery, patients make major changes to their lifestyles, including dealing with altered eating habits and a rapidly changing physical appearance, while at the same time experiencing a period of psychosocial adjustment.

Patients were involved in the research, from design to dissemination to make sure that the patient voice was embedded into the study.  Patients were encouraged to speak about their experiences openly without being constrained by set questions. Most participants reported that prior to surgery, they had experienced weight-related stigma from others.  This had been a source of anxiety which they felt would reduce following surgery as they lost weight. However, the stigma of obesity was exchanged for the judgment of bariatric surgery as the weight loss mechanism.

Dr Graham says: “This study sought to explore patients’ experiences of adjustment to life after bariatric surgery. We found that many participants were reluctant to discuss their experiences of surgery in social situations, sometimes even with close relatives, with frequent partial or non-disclosure of the method of their weight loss. Within social environments, discussions surrounding bariatric surgery were reported to be a source of worry with regards to the potential risks of revealing having undergone bariatric surgery due to being judged by others.”

 


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