Like any other type of elective surgery, gastric bypass surgery comes complete with its own set of risks. In fact, 10 to 20 percent of gastric bypass patients require follow-up surgery to correct a complication of the original weight loss surgery, according to the National Institutes of Health. The following list covers the most serious risks, and necessary treatments.
Pulmonary Embolism – Patients face a one percent chance of blood clots developing in the legs after surgery. Several techniques can prevent the formation of clots, such as using surgical compression stockings that put pressure on the legs and maintain blood flow in the days following surgery. If clots do form, they may break off and be carried into the lungs, where they can get caught. Emergency surgery is required.
Peritonitis – If a staple or suture used during surgery ruptures and allows stomach fluid to leak into the abdominal cavity, it can cause a serious infection, called peritonitis. Emergency surgery is required to seal the leak, followed by treatment with antibiotics to kill the infection.
Gallstones – More than one-third of gastric bypass surgery patients develop gallstones, which seem to be caused by rapid weight loss. If a patient has gallstones before the operation, the surgeon will remove the gall bladder during the gastric bypass operation to prevent further difficulties. If there are no signs of gall bladder problems, the doctor may prescribe medication to minimize the risk after surgery. A few years after her gastric bypass surgery, my wife had her gall bladder removed. Even years later, complications can arise.
Chronic Vomiting – The connection between the stomach and the intestines can narrow as a result of scar tissue forming. When this occurs, food cannot pass easily through the channel, which may cause nausea and vomiting after eating. To correct the problem during follow-up surgery, the doctor will insert a balloon into the opening and stretch it. This outpatient procedure has a 90 percent success rate.
Dumping Syndrome – This problem occurs when food moves too quickly through the small intestine and causes nausea, weakness, sweating, faintness, and possibly diarrhea soon after eating. Normally, it is caused eating highly refined foods, like sugars or fat. Proper dietary precautions can prevent or control this problem.
Nutritional Deficiencies – Approximately 30 percent of gastric bypass patients develop severe nutritional deficiencies, such as anemia, osteoporosis, and metabolic bone disorders. Taking the correct combination of dietary supplements can prevent these problems.
Stomach Ulcers – Ulcers can develop at the top part of the intestine when it is connected to the new stomach pouch. Traditional ulcer treatments are used.
Hernia – Hernias can develop in any part of the abdominal muscles where there is a weak point that allows a part of the stomach or intestines to push through. Surgery can correct this problem.
Pregnancy – Women should not get pregnant for at least two years after surgery to prevent serious post-surgical complications. Women who later become pregnant must also be careful to take the correct nutritional supplements to protect both her and the baby from developing nutritional deficiencies.
Bowel Obstruction – This problem can result when scar tissue develops where the stomach was sewn or stapled to create a smaller pouch. This requires immediate emergency medical treatment that may include surgery.
With all of the hazards involved, you need to carefully weigh the risks against the benefits of gastric bypass surgery. On the positive side, in addition to weight loss, gastric bypass surgery can dramatically reduce the chance of obesity-related heart disease, diabetes, and sleep apnea, as well as improve lower back and knee problems. Before arranging gastric bypass surgery, discuss all treatment options with your doctor to determine the course of action that is right for you.