Risks of bariatric surgery

As with any major abdominal surgery, there are risks directly associated with bariatric surgery. Although measures are taken to reduce the risks of these complications, they sometimes do occur.

Surgery should not be considered until you and your doctor have evaluated all other options. If complications occur during the operation, your doctor may opt for open surgery. Your doctor must determine if you are an appropriate surgical candidate.

The proper approach to weight-loss surgery requires discussion and careful consideration of the following with your doctor:

  • These procedures are in no way to be considered as cosmetic surgery.
  • The surgery does not involve the removal of adipose tissue (fat) by suction or excision as in liposuction.
  • A decision to elect surgical treatment requires an assessment of the risk and benefit to the patient and meticulous performance of the appropriate surgical procedure.
  • These surgical weight-loss procedures (approved in the United States) are generally not reversible.
  • The success of weight-loss surgery is dependent upon long-term lifestyle changes in diet and exercise.
  • Problems may arise after surgery that may require re-operations.
  • Success of surgical treatment must begin with realistic goals and progress through the best possible use of well-designed and tested operations.

Possible complications

As with any surgery, there are operative and long-term complications and risks associated with surgical weight-loss procedures that should be discussed with your doctor. Possible risks include, but are not limited to:

  • Bleeding*
  • Complications due to anesthesia and medications
  • Deep vein thrombosis
  • Dehiscence (suture separation)
  • Infections
  • Leaks from staple line breakdown
  • Marginal ulcers
  • Pulmonary problems
  • Spleen injury*
  • Stenosis (abnormal narrowing of the gastric pouch in gastric bypass procedures)

*Removal of the spleen is necessary in about 0.3 percent of patients to control operative bleeding. If surgery is performed laparoscopically and complications occur during the operation, your doctor may opt for open surgery.

Open bariatric surgery is considered more invasive and can have higher complication rates in some categories, such as hernias and wound infections.

Thorough review of potential complications is provided at the patient consultation through video education, pamphlets and fact sheets.

Last reviewed: 
June 2018

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