Risks of Bariatric Weight Loss Surgery

Imagine greeting the sun in a bikini.  Or how about wowing everyone in a tight new dress on Hari Raya or Chinese New Year?  For men, wouldn’t it be great to find a pair of pants that fits…without having to shop at a plus-size clothing store? If you’re morbidly obese, the possibility of these things happening might seem nothing but distant fantasies.  After all, you’ve tried every diet from here to the moon- until you became a joke to yourself, “here we go again, another fad diet, another three months to lose 5 kilos and two weeks to gain it all back!”  


This Body is Not Me…

Maybe you gained weight during pregnancy, or maybe your job keeps you from having time to work out or eat properly.  Maybe you simply can’t stop having that nasi lemak or roti canai and teh tarik around the corner, or maybe your mom loves to cook for you and hey, you can’t disappoint her, right? Somewhere along the line, you simply lost sight of your habits and stepped onto what seems like an uncontrollable bullet train to obesity.  Now, morbidly obese, that bullet train might be off to dangerous places…where high blood pressure, stroke, type-2 diabetes, and even cancer loom heavily. You know the risks of being morbidly obese, but no matter how it came to pass that you put on so much weight, you know one thing for sure: It sure is hard to lose weight and keep it off. Friends and family might not get it, either.  “Just put your mind to it and lose 10 kilos.”  It might seem like a no-brainer to them: diet + exercise = weight loss. But for you, nothing works and you’re at your wit’s end.  That’s why the appeal of bariatric surgery might be irresistible to you considering that you can’t seem to make anything work to lose the weight. If you’re totally frustrated by weight loss efforts, then bariatric surgery might seem like the Holy Grail of solutions.  And for some, it really is.  They have the surgery, are able to incorporate the post-surgery requirements into their lives, and they actually keep the weight off for the long term. But it’s not easy, and it doesn’t come without risks.  Here, as promised, we give you a full run-down of the risks of bariatric surgery.


Okay, Tell Me About the Risks….

There are two types of risks involved with bariatric surgery: one is simply the fact that it’s surgery.  All surgery comes with the following inherent risks no matter how minor or major they are*, so let’s get them out of the way first:

  • blood clots
  • infection of the incisions
  • problems with the anesthesia
  • breathing problems
  • infection
  • profuse bleeding
  • the sutures can become infected

So, that was sort of like a generic disclaimer for all surgeries.  You would see the same risk for cosmetic surgery, yet people elect to have it performed all the time.  It’s rather like saying you risk having an accident if you drive a car. Now, onto the specific risks of bariatric surgery*, which are more long-term risks occurring after the surgery has been performed.

  • Malnutrition. This is probably the biggest risk of malabsorptive bariatric surgery, with around 40% of people experiencing either an iron deficiency or a vitamin deficiency, usually B-12, which are absorbed in the stomach and upper part small intestine (the two things which are bypassed as a result of some types of weight loss surgery).
  • Low blood sugar if diabetic medications are continued unjudiciously
  • Hernias. These can occur where the incisions are made.
  • Bowel obstruction.  A piece of food can become lodged and stuck.  Obstruction happens in less than 1% of people.
  • Dumping. This happens when you eat certain foods.  You get loose stools or cramps, and then diarrhea, nausea, vomiting.
  • Gallstones. Only about 4% of people experience ulcers, which can form in the stomach or intestine.
  • Ulcers. Fluid from the stomach or intestine can leak through the staples (or sutures) into your abdomen, causing infection. There is only about a 0.1% risk.
  • Hair Loss.  Thankfully, this is a temporary problem (not more than 3 months if it occurs) caused by malnutrition and it’s usually reversible.

As you can see, the risks of bariatric surgery run from temporary small risks (like hair loss) to serious risks that may require additional surgery to fix (staples pulling out and fluid leaking into your abdomen).


Even With All the Risks, Benefits May Still Outweigh Them

Most of the risks are seen only in a very small percentage of the post-op surgery patients..like ulcers, obstructions, etc.  Your biggest worry is malnutrition, and that’s easily combated by taking a multivitamin supplement. Even with the risks of surgery, keep in mind the risks of not having the surgery.  Bariatric surgery is associated with saving lives. Multiple medical evidence has shown that not undergoing bariatric surgery in the morbidly obese carries a much higher risk than those who undergo bariatric surgery. Not only that, but surgery techniques have improved tremendously in recent times, with the invention of laparoscopic surgery.  That means doctors only need to make small incisions large enough for small tools and a tiny camera to enter the body.  They perform the surgery by viewing the procedure on a screen.  It’s minimally invasive, safer than traditional open methods…with less pain and less bleeding. So, while bariatric surgery may not be for everyone, it’s good to be aware of the risks so you can weigh them with your doctor, your family, and of course, yourself.  Ultimately, it’s your life, and your body!   *Source: The Mayo Clinic “Gastric Bypass Surgery Risks” retrieved 5 March 2015.


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