Risks of weight-loss surgery


There is a risk of complications with all surgical procedures. Before deciding to have weight loss surgery, it is important to understand these risks and how they might affect you.

Proper planning and preparation before surgery may prevent these risks or make them less likely to occur. Talk with your doctor long before your surgery about what you can do to prevent problems during and after surgery.

Risks of any surgery

Risks that can occur with any surgery are:

  • An allergic reaction to the medicines you are given is rare, but possible. Some of these reactions may be life threatening.
  • Blood loss may occur. Some people need to have a blood transfusion during surgery or recovery in the hospital. You are less likely to need a transfusion if you don't have anemia (not enough red blood cells) before surgery.
  • Breathing problems can occur after any surgery. These are more common if you have general anesthesia and a breathing tube during surgery.
  • Falls in hospitals can happen. The cause may be loose hospital gowns, slippery floors, medicines that make you unsteady on your feet, pain, unfamiliar surroundings, feeling weak after surgery, or moving around with a lot of tubes coming out of your body.
  • Heart attack or stroke may occur during or after surgery.
  • Infection, including in the lungs (pneumonia), and urinary tract, may occur.
  • Poor wound healing may occur. This is more likely for people who are not healthy before surgery and for people who smoke, have diabetes, or take medicines that weaken their immune system.

Sitting or lying down for long periods of time during and after surgery will make your blood move more slowly through your body.

This increases your risk of:

  • Deep vein thrombosis (DVT). These are blood clots that may form in your leg veins after surgery.
  • Pulmonary embolism. These are blood clots that may travel up from your legs to your lungs and cause serious breathing problems.

You may receive blood thinners before and after surgery to reduce the risk of blood clots. You will get compression stocking on your legs during surgery to reduce the risk of blood clots. You'll also be encouraged to get out of bed and walk in the halls to reduce the risk of blood clots.

Risks of weight-loss surgeries

Risks common to all weight-loss surgeries are:

  • Gallstones and gallbladder attacks after surgery -- these occur more often from rapid weight loss.
  • Gastritis (inflamed stomach lining), heartburn, or stomach ulcers.
  • Injury to your stomach, intestines, or other organs during surgery.
  • Poor nutrition -- you will eat less food after surgery, and your body may not absorb all the calories, protein, vitamins, and minerals from the food you eat.
  • Scarring inside your belly -- this could lead to an obstruction (blockage) in your bowel in the future.
  • Vomiting -- from eating more than your stomach pouch can hold.
  • Emotional health issues -- some people find they need help adjusting to the emotional and life changes losing such a large amount of weight can bring.

Risks of gastric banding

These problems with your gastric band or access port may occur:

  • Your gastric band may slip partly out of place.
  • Your gastric band may erode into the wall of the stomach.
  • The band may cause heartburn or reflux symptoms.
  • The port or tubing may break or leak, or the port may rotate out of the correct position. Fixing this problem would require a minor operation.

Risks of gastric bypass

These problems may occur after gastric bypass:

  • A leak can occur from any of the staple lines at the gastric pouch or from where your intestine is re-connected. If a leak occurs you will likely need surgery to repair the leak. The risk of a leak is about 0.5%.
  • The opening between your stomach pouch and your small intestine may get narrower. This is called a stricture. This can be treated by placing a scope down your throat and using a balloon to stretch the opening bigger. Surgery is rarely needed to fix this problem.
  • If you have open surgery, you may get an incisional hernia. An incisional hernia is a bulging of tissue through your incision.

Other risks include:

  • Anemia -- from low iron or low vitamin B12 levels.
  • Dumping syndrome -- this is when the contents in your stomach move through your small intestine quickly. It causes discomfort and diarrhea.
  • Kidney stones.
  • Thinning of the bones (osteoporosis) -- due to your body absorbing less vitamin D and calcium.
  • Malnourishment -- if you do not eat enough protein after surgery.

Risks of vertical sleeve gastrectomy

These problems may occur after vertical sleeve gastrectomy:

  • A leak can occur from the long staple line on the side of the sleeved stomach.
  • The sleeved stomach may become very narrow as it heals and develop a stricture. This may be treated with a scope and a balloon to stretch or dilate the narrowed area.
  • If the sleeve is not narrow enough, you may not lose enough weight. As time goes by, the sleeved stomach can get larger so that you can eat more food and regain some weight.
  • You might have heartburn or reflux and need to stay on medicines to reduce acid.

You can help reduce the risk of complications by choosing a doctor and hospital that provide high quality care.

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Review Date: 1/30/2018

Reviewed By: John E. Meilahn, MD, Bariatric Surgery, Chestnut Hill Surgical Associates, Philadelphia, PA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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