A bariatric specialist is a physician who specializes in the treatment of obese patients and conditions that are related to their weight. Practitioners of bariatric medicine include doctors, physician assistants and nurse practitioners. These specialists also concentrate on the prevention and causes of obesity. The word “bariatrics” was coined in 1965 from a German word that translates to English as “large.”
Obesity, the state of being at least 20 percent overweight, is a condition that can lead to other diseases and health problems, including several that can be fatal. It is necessary for a bariatric specialist to be specially trained in these conditions and the ways in which weight can affect them. Obesity by itself can also be fatal.
Diseases that can be caused or exacerbated by obesity include diabetes, some cancers, arthritis, stroke, hypertension, gout, heart disease, and sleep apnea. Obesity also can increase a person’s chances of developing stress incontinence, skin ulcers or wounds, and gall bladder and respiratory diseases. Treatment provided by a bariatric specialist can vary but often includes exercise, diet and other changes in lifestyle, medication and sometimes surgery.
A bariatric specialist supervises a patient’s weight loss plan and nutrition to ensure the patient is getting adequate amounts of vitamins and minerals while limiting caloric intake. A psychological component can also be part of the treatment, especially if a patient overeats because of emotional needs. Prescription medicines to help a patient lose weight can be used for a short period.
Bariatric surgery, sometimes referred to as gastric bypass surgery, is an option, but only in extreme cases. When surgery is recommended, a bariatric specialist will work hand in hand with a bariatric surgeon to ensure a patient is receiving proper care. Patients who undergo bariatric surgery also must embrace diet and lifestyle changes for the results to be permanent.
Nurses who specialize in the care of bariatric patients have special considerations in dealing with treatment. A patient’s weight may make some types of movement difficult, and this could lead to falls and injuries. In a hospital setting, these nurses can ensure breathing aids are available for patients who suffer from sleep apnea, or more rugged and size-appropriate wheelchairs and other devices are on hand for patients who have mobility problems.