As with all major surgeries, gastric bypass surgery carries a range of different risks which need to be discussed with your surgeon and taken carefully into account before undergoing any weight loss surgery procedure.
Before considering these risks however it is important to note that there are also risks involved in many cases from not having surgery and these need to be balanced against the risks of gastric bypass surgery.
It is no accident that people who are very heavily overweight are referred to as being morbidly obese and you need also to discuss this with your doctor in the light of your own particular health problems associated with your obesity.
It should also be noted here that when we talk of the risks of gastric bypass surgery here we are not referring to risks in lap band surgery which are covered in a separate section of the site, but are looking at such things as the roux-en-y-gastric bypass, the gastric sleeve, the vertical sleeve gastrectomy with duodenal switch and the biliopancreatic diversion.
So just what are the risks and complications from gastric bypass surgery?
First, there are a number of risks which are common to any form of major surgery and not simply to bariatric surgery. These include such things as complications arising from the use of anesthesia, infection and bleeding.
Next, there are a series of different risks and complications which are specific to weight loss surgery including:
- Death. Fortunately, advances in surgery generally and in gastric bypass surgery in particular, mean that the risk of death is thankfully lower than it was even a few short years ago. Nonetheless, the risk of death remains and is generally agreed to be in the region of about 1%.
- Blood clots in the legs. Blood clots in the legs are another serious risk of surgery as such clots can travel up into the lungs resulting in a pulmonary embolism. It is worthy of note that this risk in considerably higher in smokers and that quitting smoking in preparation for surgery can reduce this risk considerably.
- Leakage along the stapling line. In cases where stomach stapling is used there is a risk if of leakage along the line of staples. Normally the problems caused by leakage can be solved using antibiotics but, in serious cases, this can lead to the requirement for further emergency surgery to correct the problem.
- Incision hernia. An incision hernia can present in patients when a weakness occurs at the site of an incision and is generally only seen in open procedures involving a large surgical incision. An incision hernia generally requires surgical repair.
- A narrowing of the opening into the small intestine. Although rare, the opening from the newly created stomach pouch into the small intestine can become narrowed requiring intervention. In some cases this means passing a tube through the mouth and into the opening in order to widen it while in others it will require corrective surgery.
- Dumping syndrome. Dumping syndrome is a fairly common complication in which the stomach contents move too quickly through the small intestine resulting in a range of problems including nausea, vomiting, dizziness, sweating and diarrhea. In many cases dumping syndrome is caused by not taking medical advice given for a healthy living diet and eating high-fat or sweet foods.
In addition to the risks noted above other possible complications include such things as vitamin and mineral deficiency (in particular iron, vitamin B-12 and vitamin D deficiency), dehydration, gallstones, kidney stones, stomach ulcers and hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).
In one recent study severely obese patients who opted for bypass surgery showed a reduction in their risk of premature death of as much as 89% compared to other severely obese people who did not opt for surgery. In yet another large-scale study involving 66,000 relatively young obese patients (under the age of 40) the death rate in the thirteen and a half years after surgery was just 3% compared to 14% for those patients who did not undergo weight loss surgery.
So what are the chances of running into one of these gastric bypass risks?
It is difficult to be precise here as the numbers will vary according to a wide range of different factors. However, in general, about 10% to 20% of patients will require corrective surgeries of one sort or another, the most common of which will be to correct an abdominal hernia.
Overall, about one third of all gastric bypass surgery patients will develop gallstones and post-operative complications such as infection, staple leakage, narrowing of the opening between the stomach and small intestine (stomal stenosis) and ulcers will typically be seen in about 10% of patients. More serious complications such as gastrointestinal leakage and blood clots in the legs are seen in only about 1% of patients.
Before leaving the subject of gastric bypass risks here are the thoughts of one women who encountered what many would say were more than her fair share of complications following weight loss surgery: