What to Expect After Weight Loss Surgery

Obesity affects more than 60 million Americans. Obese people often suffer serious health problems and have higher rates of heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, and cancer. For severely obese people who can’t lose weight any other way, weight loss surgery can quite literally be lifesaving.

But weight loss surgery is no quick fix. To be successful, surgery must be followed by lifelong changes in eating and behavior. And weight loss surgery, like any major surgery, carries risk. What can you expect after undergoing weight loss surgery?

Is Weight Loss Surgery Right for You?

Recovery After Weight Loss Surgery

Most gastric bypass surgery is laparoscopic. The small incisions from laparoscopic gastric bypass surgery make recovery time shorter. Most people stay in the hospital for 2-3 days, and resume normal activities in three to five weeks.

If the surgery must be “open” (laparotomy, requiring a large incision), healing time will take longer.

How Much Weight Will You Lose After Surgery?

The main thing to expect after weight loss surgery is — as expected — weight loss! On average, people lose 61% of excess weight after gastric bypass surgery.

Other surgeries such as gastric banding, result in about 47% of excess weight loss.

Obesity-related medical problems generally improve after weight loss surgery. Some of these improvements can be dramatic:

Obesity-related medical problem
Percent of people with resolution after surgery*
Obstructive sleep apnea
74%-98%
Diabetes
83%
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
72%-98%
Degenerative joint disease or orthopedic problems
41%-76%
High blood pressure
52%-92%

*Ranges mean that different studies found different percentages.

Studies also suggest people undergoing surgery for weight loss live longer than people of similar weight who don’t have surgery, and 95% of people report an improved quality of life.

Potential Problems After Weight Loss Surgery

Most people experience no serious problems after weight loss surgery though 10% do have minor complications. Less than 5% experience serious (potentially life-threatening) complications.

Wound infections can happen up to three weeks after surgery. Symptoms include redness and warmth, pain, or thick drainage (pus) from the surgical wound. Wound infections require antibiotics and sometimes further surgery.

Constipation is common after weight loss surgery. Liquid cathartics like mineral oil can help. Avoid granular fiber (Metamucil or psyllium), which can cause obstructions.

Bleeding in stool, or black stools, can be serious. Let your doctor know about this immediately, or go to an emergency room.

Blood clots to the lungs, called pulmonary emboli, occur less than 1% of the time. They are the most common cause of death after weight loss surgery. Blood clots can usually be prevented with blood thinning medicines and frequent activity.

Leaks in the new connections made by the weight loss surgery are rare, but serious. They usually occur within five days of the surgery. Abdominal pain and feeling ill are common symptoms — these should prompt a call to your doctor.

Gallstones commonly occur with rapid weight loss. Up to 50% of people will develop gallstones after gastric bypass surgery and these are usually harmless. However, gallstones can cause nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain, requiring surgery. About 15% to 25% people require gallbladder removal after gastric bypass surgery.

Dumping syndrome occurs after eating high-sugar meals after weight loss surgery. Sodas or fruit juices are common culprits. The sugary food rushes through the stomach and can cause nausea, vomiting, and weakness.

Excess skin may need to be removed after rapid weight loss. This requires additional surgery.

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Get all the latest information on weight loss surgery by contacting The Denver Center for Bariatric Surgery.

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