Bariatric surgery, although very helpful in resolving co-morbid conditions and obesity, is a surgical procedure that contains some degree of risk.
Our weight-loss surgery program has some of the lowest complication rates in the country, but as with any major operation, there are risks involved. The nationwide mortality rate for bariatric surgery patients is less than 1 percent. Only 5-10% of patients will experience some sort of post-operative problem that requires medical attention. When you consider the amount of life-threatening illnesses that this surgery can prevent, the benefits can often far outweigh the risks.
General risks of bariatric surgery include:
- Mortality Rates – Current nationwide mortality rates following bariatric surgery are about 1 in 500, or 0.2%. For Centers of Excellence, that percentage is cut in half to 0.1%. For the morbidly obese, the chances of dying from a co-morbidity associated with their excess weight are much higher than the risk of death from bariatric surgery.
- Injury to internal organs – The spleen, liver, intestines and esophagus are all major organs that are located near the upper stomach. Since the operating area contains these organs, there is a small risk that during surgery, bleeding, or tissue damage may occur. On rare occasions, the spleen or gallbladder may have to be removed.
- Anastomotic leak – A rupture in the new connection between the created stomach pouch and the small intestine, or a leak in the stomach pouch itself, is also known as an anastomotic leak. Though leaks are extremely serious if left untreated, they can be easily detected and surgically repaired. During surgery, your surgeon will perform frequent leak tests to minimize this possibility.
- Bleeding – Post-operative bleeding is a possibility with any surgery. In weight-loss surgery, bleeding usually occurs due to the division of blood vessels necessary for a successful procedure. However, excessive bleeding is rare, and all bleeding usually stops within 24 hours of surgery. Transfusions for patients are rarely necessary, though a return to the operating room may be required if bleeding continues. Additionally, blood may be transfused if the patient has lost too much blood during the surgery.
- Bowel Obstruction – Intestinal blockage, though rare, may occur in the weeks, months and sometimes years after surgery.
- Wound Seroma – After surgery, fat tissue under the skin liquefies, and the body usually absorbs it. However, in some rare cases, this liquid may escape through the incision, causing a large amount of discharge. Such a sight can be alarming to patients, but it is nothing to be overly worried about. Your surgeon should be contacted if you experience wound seroma.
- Chronic Gastrointestinal Dysfunction – A very small amount of patients experience intolerance to food long after surgery. This is a rare but serious problem that can often only be resolved by reversing the weight-loss surgery.
- Wound Infection – As in any surgical procedure, wounds can be susceptible to infection as they heal. Minimally invasive procedures such as weight-loss surgery have a very low prevalence of wound infection. This complication can usually be treated in an outpatient setting.
- Incisional Hernia – Incisional hernias happen in less than one percent of minimally-invasive laparoscopic surgery patients.
Morbidly obese patients are typically more at risk for complications from surgery than a person with a healthy body weight. This is because the bodily systems are under extreme stress caused by excess weight. These systems must work even harder when a patient undergoes the surgical process. The lungs, heart and kidneys are especially susceptible during and immediately after surgery, and our care team closely monitors these systems throughout the process. A complete physical is performed on all weight-loss surgery candidates to ensure that their bodies can handle the stress of surgery.
How to reduce the risk of complications
While our care team will do everything in our power to prevent complications from your weight-loss surgery, there are a few things that you, the patient, can do to help prevent them as well.
- Stop Smoking – You already know about the health risks associated with smoking. So if you smoke, quit. If you’ve decided to undergo weight-loss surgery, then you’re essentially making a commitment to improving your health long term. Make quitting a part of that commitment.
- Start a weight-loss program prior to surgery – Losing even a few pounds on your own, before your surgery, can lead to a much higher success rate and a lower incidence of complications. Starting an exercise regimen prior to surgery can also help build up your heart and lungs so they are better prepared for the stresses of surgery.
- Educate yourself – Get educated about weight-loss surgery well in advance of the actual procedure. If you have questions, feel free to contact us to get them answered by a clinical expert. Talk to your primary care physician.
- Exercise – Though weight-loss surgery is considered a major operation, recovery times are minimal due to the minimally invasive nature of the procedure. Once your surgeon clears you to get out of bed and move around, do it. Short, frequent walks are a great way to reduce the chance of blood clots, improve lung function, and even control pain. The sooner you’re up and around, the quicker your new life can begin.