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Study cautions women who have weight-loss surgery

July 20, 2010|By Shari Roan, Los Angeles Times

More young adults are having weight-loss surgery these days in order to prevent obesity-related diseases like diabetes and improve their quality of life. Obese young women especially may be advised to undergo the surgery in order to improve fertility and avoid well-document complications in pregnancy that can plague obese women. But a possible complication has arisen in this strategy that women should know about.

Australian doctors reported Friday on a case in which a woman who had obesity surgery — specifically, biliopancreatic diversion — developed severe vitamin deficiencies in pregnancy and gave birth to a child who is blind. The woman had the surgery seven years before she became pregnant. But during the pregnancy, the woman was diagnosed with deficiencies in vitamins A, D, K and iron. Vitamin deficiencies are a common side effect of weight-loss surgery.

The woman was treated for the deficiencies, but her levels of vitamin A remained low throughout the pregnancy, and her infant son was born with malformations of the eyes and is blind, reported the lead author of the case report, Dr. Glen Gole of the University of Queensland in Brisbane. Vitamin A, Gole noted, is critical to normal eye development in a fetus. The damage from a deficiency can occur very early in the pregnancy, even before a woman knows she is pregnant.

The report was published in the Journal of the American Assn. for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus. In a news release, the journal editor in chief, David G. Hunter, noted: "Weight-reduction surgery is becoming more common, especially with the potential for health benefits that result from reducing obesity. Unfortunately, some forms of this surgery cause vitamin deficiency, and in this case the problem led to a birth defect that caused blindness in one child. We are not aware of any other cases of this particular problem, but it is important for any woman who has had this form of gastric bypass surgery to be checked for vitamin deficiency — and have it corrected — before considering having a baby."

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