Risks of Obesity Surgery

Written by Ali Zarrouk on .

Like any other major surgery obesity surgery is associated with risks and complications. However, the risk to life and the disability of obesity makes these risks acceptable.

The risks can be broken down into the following categories:

Anaesthesia Risks: All obesity operations are down under a full general anaesthetic. This is very safe with a risk of death from anaesthesia of about 1 in 40,000 people. Your anaesthetist will assess you thoroughly prior to the procedure.

General Risks: These include

  • Chest infection
  • Urine infection
  • Deep venous thrombosis and pulmonary embolism (blood clots)
  • Wound infection
  • Hernia formation at wound sites

Risk of bleeding: Bleeding can occur from the staple line of the stomach, divided vessels or injury to organs such as the spleen or the liver. These are rare and can be managed laparoscopically most of the time. Rarely patients need to have blood transfusion or the operation need to be converted to open surgery.

Risk of Death: People have died from having obesity surgery. This is rare occurring in about 1 in 1000. Death can occur as a result of heart attacks, clots in the leg veins moving to the lungs, and leaks. You will be fitted with a compression stockings and receive blood thinning injections throughout your stay in hospital as well as calf compression device during the surgery. These measures together with early mobilizing and walking after operation reduce the risks of clotting.

Specific Risks:These are risks specific to each type of operation. Some of these risks include the following:

  • Staple line leak: Whenever the stomach is divided or a joint is made there is a small risk of leak of stomach or intestinal fluid. This is rare occurring about 1% of the time but it can be serious leading to abscess formation or peritonitis and require reintervention or corrective surgery with a prolonged hospital stay.
  • Gastro-Oesophageal Reflux Disease (GORD): Some patients with gastric bands and sleeve gastrectomy develop acid reflux causing heartburn. The often happens in patients with a pre-existing hiatus hernia. As part of your operation any hiatus hernia will be fixed at the original surgery to reduce the chance for this complication.
  • Gastric band erosion, slippage and obstruction.
  • Gallstone formation: The rapid weight loss can lead to the formation of stones in the gallbladder. This make require surgery for the removal of the gallbladder.
  • Hair Loss: As a result of rapid weight loss, it is not uncommon to notice some thinning of your hair. This is temporary and stops when the weight loss slows down and hair will regrow back again.
  • Loose skin: After losing the excess weight some patients are left with excess skin. Some patients need surgery to remove the excess skin. This is best delayed for two years to allow for the excess skin to shrink by itself.
  • Food intolerance: This is most marked with gastric banding as discussed before. Patients with gastric bypass can develop dumping syndromes from rapid emptying of stomach into the intestine. This results in feeling tired, flushed and sweaty after having meals rich in carbohydrates and simple sugars.