Making the decision to have gastric bypass surgery requires that you know what you’re getting into. Yes, you’ll lose weight, and there are lots of potential benefits beyond that. But there are also some serious risks. And some very unpleasant side effects.
Overall, about 5% of gastric bypass surgery patients experience some kind of complication. 10% experience some kind of problem that requires attention from the doctor or nurse.
Nearly everyone experiences some of the unpleasant side effects also listed here.
No one can predict whether or not you’ll suffer from any of these complications. Even the rare ones do happen to somebody. And that somebody could be you. So just be aware. Understand that this is a very big deal before you sign up for it.
Knowing what the potential dangers are, and being prepared for the possibility, will make you that much more likely to be successful should you decide to go ahead and have gastric bypass surgery.
Gastric Bypass Surgery Complications:
- Respiratory Problems. I had this one, and it turns out it may have been related to sleep apnea. As I woke up from surgery, it was very difficult to breathe, and when I would doze off my oxygen sensor alarm would go off. If you have any issues with breathing let your doctor and anesthetist know before surgery and precautions can be taken.
- Leaking of intestine or stomach contents. You should be checked pretty thoroughly before you’re allowed to eat or drink anything. Most often, they take you down and make you drink yucky liquids that show up on X-Rays, then take said X-Rays to see if anything is seeping out anywhere. If, however, this is not done or leaks are missed (leaks happen in less than 2% of cases, I don’t know how often it’s not caught and causes problems) it is very serious and can cause further surgery to be necessary.
- Infections are possible from any type of surgery. Approximately 2% – 3% of patients have infections of the incision area.
- Opening of the incision is very rare.
- Blood clots can form in the legs and move to the lungs (pulmonary embolism.) This is rare, and risk is lowered by the use of special stockings or inflatable boots that improve circulation during surgery.
- Bowel obstructions can occur from any type of abdominal surgery. Scar tissue blocks passage through the bowels. It’s painful, dangerous, and thankfully very rare. Statistically, it occurs in less than 1% of patients.
- Ulcers can be very painful. Taking ibuprofin or other NSAIDs can cause them, so avoid those. Overall, less than 1% of patients get them.
- Gallstones. Lots of experience with those here, which led to having my gall bladder out. One study found that up to a third of gastric bypass patients will develop gallstones. It’s from losing the weight so fast. Gallstones are absolutely horrible and will make you cry and beg God for mercy. Classicly, it is a steady, severe pain on the right side of your stomach possibly going to your back. Mine, however, was always right in the middle immediately under my sternum. It happens when you eat, and once it gets going even the “safest” of foods will feel like glass going down. If you get gall stones, take the option to have your gall bladder removed as soon as it is offered. Don’t suffer for months like I did.
- Vitamin deficiencies. I’ve got a lot of information on those on this site. But because of the malabsorptive aspects of gastric bypass surgery, this is the most likely and most serious of the major complications. It is something you must be vigilant about keeping watch for. Take your vitamins every day and have your bloodwork done as often as possible.
- Reactive Hypoglycemia happens when your body releases excessive insulin after you eat. It feels a little like dumping, but it’s much worse. Fatigue, diziness, sweating, headaches, depression, palpitations, nervousness, irritibility – all of these are symptoms of reactive hypoglycemia. It’s extremely rare. Much more info is available at Atomic City, a blog that’s also in my blogroll.
- Kidney Stones. One study found an increased risk of developing kidney stones following gastric bypass surgery. It also found that the risk develops right away – as early as 3 months after surgery.
- Internal Hernias and Twisted Bowels. This one happens to approximately 3-5% of all gastric bypass surgery patients. I happened to be one of those lucky few. Gastric Bypass Surgery Complications: My Week Of Horror. As my surgeon explained, when the original gastric bypass surgery is done, the re-routed intestines are tacked in place to the surrounding fatty tissue. Then you lose 100+ pounds, and sometimes the tissue your intestines were tacked to disappears. This leaves your intestines free to wiggle about and do their own thing. This is painful beyond your wildest dreams. I’ve had 2 children and it was much worse than anything I experienced during labor. It requires surgery to repair, but thankfully almost never happens more than once. The bad news is that up to 40% of people who experience this problem die from it. And it can happen at any time after surgery – mine was 15 months after. The nurse in my surgeon’s office had it happen 2 years out. She promises me, however, that once you get past it it’s like a blip on your radar. I hope she’s right.
Unpleasant Side Effects of Gastric Bypass Surgery:
- Dumping. Nearly everyone experiences this to some degree at some time. It comes from foods that are too high in sugar, fat or grease. You get nauseas, sweaty, and/or have hot flashes. It can make your pulse pound in your temples, make you lightheaded, and give you cramps or diarrhea. It is a great deterrent to eating the wrong thing again any time soon.
- Vomiting. Again, most will vomit at some point, but it’s not necessarily an every day occurance. For me, if I eat more food than the pouch will hold, it just comes back up. It’s not like having a stomach bug where you feel sick. It just comes up almost like a burp. If you don’t chew your food, however, it can really hurt (if say the pieces of food are too big for the opening to your intestine) before you throw up. Then again, if you eat too fast or eat food that is too dry (especially in the beginning) you’ll get this acidy froth stuff that comes back up. It’s gross.
- Clogging (food blockage). This comes from eating too fast and not chewing your food small enough to pass through the opening to your intestine. You just have to wait it out. It hurts, and you may vomit. Or you can mix meat tenderizer with warm water and sip that (bleech.) It tastes nasty, but desperate situations call for desperate measures.
- Constipation. That’s self-explanitory. My doc said get more fiber – take metamucil. I tried that, but a stool softener worked better. Those items are both something you’ll want to have on hand.
- Gas. Comes from swallowing air with your food or drink, among other things. Burp as much as possible as you eat or drink. Try beano or gas-x. And learn how to hold it (it is possible). My Most Embarassing Moment Ever happened post surgery when I tooted by accident during rehearsal for a play I was directing. Fortunately, there were only a few other people there. Avoid dairy products (milk, cheese and ice cream), carbonated beverages (those are a big no-no anyway), straws and chewing gum.
- Intoxication. You should avoid alcohol for the first year anyway. Afterward, you’ll feel the effects much quicker as things pass to your intestine much faster. But those effects may wear off faster, too.
- Hibernation Syndrome. Basically, it takes a while for your body to adjust to the relative lack of nutrients after surgery. You’ll be draggy, tired, maybe even depressed for several weeks. Then all of a sudden, you’ve adjusted and you have more energy than you know what to do with.
- Hair Loss. More about that, and what do to about it, here.
- Menstrual Problems. Women may notice their cycle becoming irregular, and it may come immediately after surgery.
- Lactose Intolerance may be caused by the natural sugar in dairy products.
- Weight Regain. Yes, it is possible. As you live life after gastric bypass surgery, you’ll learn ways to work around the pouch. To get more food in. You may not form the habits you need early, or break your bad ones - snacking, grazing, drinking high-calorie liquids, sodas, not exercising – all of these will lead to weight gain eventually. The farther out you are from surgery, the more your pouch becomes a tool that you are in charge of using.