What are the risks of bariatric surgery?

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Any major surgery involving general anesthesia poses potential health risks and weight loss "bariatric" surgeries are no exception. 

Gastric bypass and other weight-loss surgeries carry both short-term and long-term risks, even with minimally invasive surgical techniques.

The more immediate risks of these surgical procedures include: bleeding; infection; blood clots; breathing or lung problems; and leaks in your gastrointestinal system.

Longer term complications vary depending on the type of surgery. They can include: bowel obstruction; persistent diarrhea, nausea or vomiting; gallstones; hernias; low blood sugar (hypoglycemia); malnutrition; stomach perforation; and ulcers.

Patients may develop so-called "dumping syndrome" consisting of loose stools and/or abdominal cramps shortly after eating certain types of foods. But often these symptoms can be avoided by staying away from the foods that cause the symptoms.
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Long-term complications of bariatric surgery include nutritional deficiencies, including malabsorption of vitamin B12, iron and calcium, and hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, which can lead to various medical conditions, including neuropathy.

Most people undergoing bariatric surgery have rapid and extreme weight loss. In one study of 608 patients followed up to 16 years, the average weight loss was 106 pounds. Nearly all the weight is lost by the second year after surgery. An estimated five to 10% of patients do not lose much weight, or regain the weight, with higher rates seen in those who undergo the gastric banding procedure.

After surgery, you have to learn to eat smaller amounts of food at one time, to chew food well and to eat slowly. If you don't adjust your eating habits, you won't lose as much weight. Additionally, especially in the first three months after surgery, you must be sure to eat the proper amounts of protein, calories, minerals and vitamins as recommended by your healthcare professional and you will likely need nutritional supplements for the rest of your life.
Every weight loss surgery has risks, but it depends on the type of surgery that the patient is having for specific risk. For example, the risks associated with the gastric sleeve can be bleeding, leakage, nausea, vomiting and more. With gastric bypass, those same risks exist, but internal hernia, bowel obstruction complications can arise too. All weight loss surgery has risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and pulmonary embolism (PE), meaning blood clots in the legs that can go to the lungs. Every weight loss surgery also has a risk of death. The risk is very, very low but it's not zero. The risk of death has gotten to be significantly less over the years with patients.
All surgical procedures have some degree of risk. When a patient has morbid obesity, the risks are increased. Since bariatric or weight-loss surgery is performed exclusively on the morbidly obese, these patients face certain risks, which increase based on the complexity of the surgery. 
Simple surgeries, such as adjustable gastric band, have a very low risk. The gastric sleeve has more risks than the gastric band and includes bleeding and leakage from the staple or suture lines. Since all patients are given blood thinners before and after surgery to prevent blood clots from forming, this increases the risk of bleeding. Leakage is rare, but close follow-up after surgery allows the surgeon to quickly detect and address this complication.
The gastric bypass is the most complex of the weight-loss surgeries. It requires many staple lines and intestinal connections, which increase the risks of bleeding and leakage. Bypass patients also have a risk of intestinal obstruction, similar to the occurrence after any abdominal surgery.
After gastric bypass surgery, people may become intolerant to sugar. When they eat sugar, they experience dumping syndrome. Symptoms of dumping syndrome include nausea, cramping, diarrhea, general weakness, profuse sweating, vomiting and heart palpitations.
Although there are risks with weight-loss surgery, the risks of ongoing obesity are far greater.
Like with any major surgery, weight loss surgeries present potential health risks. Gastric bypass and other weight-loss surgeries carry both short-term and long-term risks, even if minimally-invasive surgical techniques are involved.

The more immediate risks include: bleeding; infection; blood clots; breathing or lung problems; and leaks in your gastrointestinal system.

Long-term complications can vary. They can include: bowel obstruction; persistent diarrhea, nausea or vomiting; gallstones; hernias; low blood sugar (hypoglycemia); malnutrition; stomach perforation; and ulcers.

Patients may develop so-called "dumping syndrome" consisting of loose stools and/or abdominal cramps shortly after eating certain types of foods. These symptoms can be avoided by staying away from the foods that cause the symptoms.
Every surgical procedure carries risks. Complications vary depending on the procedure and the comorbid medical problems a patient has. Complications are unlikely, but could include hernia, infection, heart attack, stroke, blood clots, abscess, staple-line leak (for sleeve gastrectomy and gastric bypass only) and, in rare cases (0.05%), death. Patients may regain weight when follow-up care and support are lacking.
To ensure safety and peace of mind, every surgery candidate should meet privately with a surgeon to discuss benefits and risks and to ask questions. The surgeon will ask about previous diet and exercise experiences and may order medical tests. These may include blood tests, CT scan, ultrasound, X-rays and EKG.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.