Risks of Weight Loss Surgery

Weight loss surgery can have tremendous benefits, but it also carries risks of side effects and complications. These can occur during surgery, during the postoperative recovery period or several months or years after surgery.

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Risks of Any Surgery

All types of surgery carry risks. These include:

  • Allergic reactions to anesthesia
  • Excess bleeding
  • Infections, such as surgery site infections, or SSI
  • Post-surgery blood clots
    • pulmonary embolism is in a blood vessel to the lungs
    • deep vein thrombosis blocks blood flow to the legs
    • blockage of blood to the brain or heart causes a stroke or heart attack, respectively
  • Death: about 1 in every 200 patients dies as the result of bariatric surgery.
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Traditional surgery is "open." In open surgery, the surgeon cuts into the abdomen and directly performs the surgery, such as cutting the stomach in the vertical sleeve gastrectomy or encircling it with the gastric band in adjustable gastric band surgery.

Most bariatric surgeries today are laparoscopic, or minimally invasive. The surgeon makes only a few small incisions into the abdomen and inserts a laparoscope, or tiny camera that projects images onto a screen in the operating room, and the tools necessary for the surgery. The surgeon performs the surgery from outside the patient's body, by controlling the tools remotely and watching the screen.

Laparoscopic surgery has a shorter recovery time and a lower rate of infections and surgical hernias. Some patients, however, aren't good candidates for laparoscopic surgery, and you should discuss the surgical procedure with your surgeon. Sometimes during surgery, the surgeon will need to turn a laparoscopic procedure into an open procedure for safety reasons.

Gallbladder Removal and Weight Loss Surgery

The gallbladder is a sac-like organ that stores bile made in the liver. Bile helps your body digest fat and cholesterol. Rapid weight loss, which occurs after weight loss surgery, can lead to painful gallstones. To prevent this, surgeons often perform a cholecystectomy, or remove the gallbladder, during the weight loss surgery. The gallbladder is not essential for normal metabolism, and its absence should not be noticed.

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Dumping Syndrome

Dumping syndrome occurs when food leaves the stomach and enters the small intestine too quickly. This means that food is not as well digested as it should be when it gets to the intestine. It's especially likely after gastric bypass surgery because of changes during surgery to the sphincter, which normally closes off the stomach from the intestine to prevent food from leaving the stomach too fast.

  • Early dumping symptoms can include nausea, cramping, a very full feeling, diarrhea, a rapid heart rate and sweating.
  • Late dumping symptoms can include low blood sugar, shakiness and lightheadedness. It happens about one to three hours after a meal or snack.
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Avoiding high-sugar foods, such as candy, other sweets, sugar-sweetened drinks and undiluted fruit juice, can help prevent dumping syndrome. Also, avoid eating high-fat foods or eating too much at once.