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Some forms of Weight Loss Surgery could Result in Birth Defects

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

Gastric bypass surgery performed for weight loss could result in birth defects. Abnormal fetal development from vitamin deficiency has been reported in a mother who underwent gastric bypass surgery before getting pregnant.

Weight loss surgery can cause vitamin deficiencies for pregnant women that could affect fetal growth and development. Clinicians in Australia report blindness in a newborn whose mother underwent obesity surgery seven years before getting pregnant. Weight loss surgery is becoming common and many women undergo gastric bypass to improve the chances of fertility.

The type of weight loss surgery on the mother that caused eye malformation was biliopancreatic diversion that involves removing part of the stomach and connecting the remaining portion to the lower part of the small intestine. It is a type of gastric bypass surgery that can cause malabsorption of vitamins essential for early fetal development.

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The mother was diagnosed with severe deficiencies of vitamins D, A and K and iron-deficiency anemia at nine weeks gestation, but not before pregnancy. Even though she underwent treatment, her son was born with malformations of both eyes causing persistent visual problems.

Glen Gole, MD, FRANZCO, Department of Ophthalmology, Royal Children's Hospital and Discipline of Paediatrics and Child Health, University of Queensland, Brisbane, states, "The mother's description of night blindness, recurrent low vitamin A levels during the pregnancy, and demonstrated vitamin A deficiency in the neonate support vitamin A deficiency as the cause. This case illustrates that vitamin A is very important for normal eye development in the fetus, particularly for pregnant women who have undergone gastric bypass surgery in order to improve their fertility."

The findings, published in the journal "American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus" (AAPOS) highlight a potential problem that can come from surgery to reduce obesity.

J AAPOS Editor-in-Chief David G. Hunter, MD, PhD says "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." Some forms of weight loss surgery cause vitamin deficiency that may go undetected in women until after they become pregnant, resulting in birth defects.

AAPOS: doi:10.1016/j.jaapos.2010.01.015