Weight Loss Surgery Surgery Risks

For some, especially those 100 pounds or more overweight, bariatric surgery is often the only way to lose weight and regain health. The choice usually comes down to the risk between continuing to be morbidly obese versus having major surgery. Anyone considering bariatric weight loss surgery should be aware of all possible risks and complications.

Keep in mind that patients will be more or less at risk of developing complications based on their current state of health and the type of bariatric surgery they undergo.

Types of Bariatric Surgery

Patients who qualify can choose between one of the following types of bariatric surgery:

  • stomach banding, in which a band is placed around the stomach to reduce its area and, therefore, the amount of food it can hold (and the patient can eat)
  • stomach bypass, a procedure that reduces the size of the stomach and lets food bypass a portion of the small intestine
  • two-stage sleeve gastrectomy, in which one side of the stomach is removed (this can be the first of a two-stage operation for extremely obese individuals).

Most reputable surgeons will only perform bariatric surgeries on patients whose BMI (Body Mass Index) is over 35. However, because bariatric surgery is a major operation, patients must also demonstrate that previous attempts to lose a significant amount of weight through non-surgical means have been unsuccessful.

When weighed against being severely obese and suffering from the various health problems related to an overweight lifestyle (heart disease, diabetes, fatty liver disease, etc.), the risk of bariatric surgery may be worth it.

Common Bariatric Surgery Risks

Possible risks of stomach stapling are:

  • heartburn
  • nutritional deficiencies
  • reduced weight loss (or even weight gain) when patients dont follow diet and exercise guidelines
  • staple breakage
  • vomiting.
  • Potential risks particular to Lap-band surgery are:
  • band slippage or leakage
  • internal infection
  • post-meal stomach pain (from overeating)
  • reduced weight loss when patients dont follow diet and exercise guidelines.

Typically, the less invasive the procedure, the less complications and risks the patient can expect to have. Consequntly, an open surgery (an operation in which patients are cut open) is more serious than laparoscopic operations (procedures in which doctors make smaller incisions and use video screens to view the inside of the patients abdomen).

Stomach stapling surgeries, like the vertical banded gastroplasty, are slightly easier to perform and also pose a lower risk of complications than stomach bypass surgery. However, stomach stapling is not as effective as stomach bypass.

Another less serious, more popular procedure than typical bypass operations is adjustable gastric banding. However, because these patients find it easier to “cheat” more after this type of surgery (i.e. continue to eat unhealthy diets), they often report lower weight loss.

Complications of Bariatric Surgery

Those who are more at risk from complications include those who are already suffering from serious health conditions (such as heart disease) or those who have had previous surgeries.

Some possible complications of bariatric surgery include:

  • blood clots in larger leg veins (This can be serious if the clots work move into the lungs blood vessels, causing the fatal condition known as pulmonary embolism.)
  • cardiac problems, which are more pronounced in the most obese individuals or those who already suffer from cardiac disease
  • complications from medications and anesthesia
  • gastrointestinal dysfunction, which can lead to severe long-term nausea
  • hernia, which will require further surgery for proper treatment
  • lung problems, including pneumonia
  • obstruction of the bowels, which will causes the patient to need more surgery
  • tears to the liver, spleen or blood vessels, causing bleeding
  • wound infections.

The best way to prevent bariatric surgery complications is to completely follow the surgeon or doctors instructions.


Bariatric Surgery Center at Highland Hospital (n.d.). Understanding Bariatric Surgery. Retrieved April 22, 2008, from the University of Rochester Medical Center Web site.

Collins, Anne (2000-2007). Health Problems of Bariatric Surgery for Severe Obesity. Retrieved April 22, 2008, from the Health Dangers of Bariatric Surgery Web site.