Is gastric bypass surgery safe? Is bariatric surgery safe? These are two of the most common questions my staff and I are asked as patients explore their options and consider weight loss surgery.
Thanks to advances in healthcare and technology, bariatric surgery procedures are safer than ever. As practitioners, we have learned a lot about how to minimize risks with surgeries of any kind, from taking preventive measures to practicing post-surgical care.
That doesn’t mean weight loss surgery is without risks. But if you understand the risks, you may be able to minimize them to ensure a safe and comfortable weight loss surgery experience.
How Weight Loss Surgery Has Changed to Become Safer
Decades ago, weight-loss surgery was a highly invasive procedure that came with severe symptoms — diarrhea, night blindness from Vitamin A deficiency, osteoporosis from Vitamin D deficiency and many other negative side effects. Many patients in the 1950s and 1960s sought reversal after weight-loss surgery because of the severe side effects.
Today, minimally invasive and nonsurgical weight loss procedures are safer and have many positive side effects, including the reduction of obesity-related health conditions.
Minimally invasive weight loss procedures
Minimal invasiveness refers to the size of the incision — typically less than 2 inches in length — and the technique used for the operation. Laparoscopic surgery is considered minimally invasive because it uses tiny tubes equipped with lights and cameras that allow physicians to perform operations through small incisions.
The less invasive the procedure, the fewer risks.
Non-surgical weight loss procedures
When we use the phrase “non-surgical,” we mean performing a procedure without making an incision. We perform these procedures by going through one of your body’s openings, such as your mouth, using an instrument called an endoscope.
The gastric balloon and endoscopic sleeve are two procedures that can be performed non-surgically.
For more information on minimally invasive and non-surgical weight loss surgeries, read our comparison between gastric sleeve, endoscopic sleeve gastroplasty, gastric balloon, lap band and gastric bypass procedures.
Understanding the Risks of Weight-Loss Surgery
When you visit your bariatric surgeon for the first time, he or she will discuss the risks and complications that are associated with weight loss surgery. Your risk level will depend on how much extra weight you carry, your overall health, and how you follow your doctor’s orders before and after your procedure.
Some of the risks, though rare, may include:
- Bowel obstruction
- Dumping syndrome, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting
- Excessive bleeding or blood clots
- Infection or ulcers
- Gastrointestinal leaks, stomach perforation
- Respiratory problems
- Reactions to anesthesia
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How You Can Prepare for Safe Weight Loss Surgery
If you are contemplating bariatric surgery, your provider will likely talk to you about what you can do to make sure you’re ready for your procedure, as well as what to do post-operatively to take care of yourself. You will play an important role in your healing and the success of your weight loss surgery.
Follow your physician’s diet recommendations
Your doctor and his team will talk to you about what to eat, what not to eat, and what supplements you should take before and after surgery.
Before surgery, your doctor may suggest that you follow a liquid diet for up to two weeks prior to your procedure. They’ll recommend a daily caloric intake, as well as types of liquid meals you can consume, such as smoothies, protein shakes, soups and broths and, of course, coffee and other beverages. Make sure you follow their advice on what to avoid in your pre-surgical liquid diet.
Your diet after weight loss surgery will likely follow similar a liquids-only menu for a couple weeks, gradually adding solid foods over the following weeks. There will be a list of foods your physician will want you to avoid for the rest of your life, such as those with high sugar content.
Follow your physician’s activity recommendations
Healthy living comes from both good nutrition and regular exercise. Your bariatric surgical team will help you create an exercise routine that matches your age, physical abilities and personal preferences.
Regular exercise will help you tone muscles and reduce loose skin, as well as heal and restore energy after carrying excess weight.
Stay near your doctor
Patients who are considering weight loss surgery should choose a surgeon who is close to their home, or close to a place where they can live for the next year. While traveling outside your home state or country for surgery could save you money, you will be safer post-surgery if you live within driving distance of your bariatric surgeon’s office. This allows your bariatric surgical team to easily monitor your healing and coach you post-operatively, in addition to being available in the rare case that something goes wrong.
A good bariatric surgeon will be on call 24 hours a day, or he or she will have staff or covering physicians who are on call for post-surgical patients around the clock.
Learn More About Bariatric Surgery
We tried to cover as much about the safety of weight-loss surgery as we could in this article, but there is so much more to learn about the latest procedures.
Download our eBook, “The Ultimate Guide to Bariatric Surgery.” The eBook contains information from our own experts as well as nationally recognized sources. The five sections include how to choose the right procedure, how to choose the right surgeon, how to pay for weight loss surgery, what to expect before and after surgery, and tips for keeping off weight for life.