What to Expect After Weight Loss Surgery

If you're getting ready to have weight loss surgery, you're probably looking ahead to the results.

You can expect to lose a lot of weight. If you have a weight-related medical condition, like type 2 diabetes or sleep apnea, those conditions may improve. And almost all people who get weight loss surgery -- 95% -- say their quality of life improves, too.

You'll want to get ready for the recovery and know what you'll need to do to make the changes last.

How Much Weight Will You Lose?

Ask your doctor exactly what you can expect. It may depend, in part, on what you weigh now and the type of surgery you get.

Gastric banding or sleeve gastrectomy is quickly becoming the preferred surgical procedure. People who get this operation lose about 40% to 50% of extra weight, on average.

On average, people lose 60% of their extra weight after gastric bypass surgery.

What Will the Recovery Be Like?

Most gastric bypass surgery is laparoscopic, which means the surgeon makes small cuts. That makes for shorter recovery time.

Most people stay in the hospital 2 to 3 days, and get back to normal activities in 3 to 5 weeks.

If the surgery must be "open," meaning the surgeon has to make a larger cut, healing takes longer.

What Are the Possible Side Effects?

Most people experience no serious problems after weight loss surgery. Only about 10% have minor complications. Less than 5% have serious complications. If you do have any problems that concern you, check in with your doctor.

Some common side effects include:

  • Constipation is common after weight loss surgery. Your doctor can let you know how to handle it. Avoid granular fiber (Metamucil or psyllium), which can cause obstructions.
  • Dumping syndrome happens after eating high-sugar meals after weight loss surgery. Sodas or fruit juices are often to blame. The sugary food rushes through the stomach and can cause nausea, vomiting, and weakness.
  • Gallstones are common when you lose a lot of weight quickly. Up to 50% of patients will develop gallstones after gastric bypass surgery, and these are usually harmless. Sometimes, gallstones can cause nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain. About 15% to 25% of people need surgery to remove their gallbladder after gastric bypass surgery.
  • Wound infections can happen up to 3 weeks after surgery. Symptoms include redness and warmth, pain, or thick drainage (pus) from the surgical wound. Wound infections require antibiotics and sometimes further surgery.

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Serious side effects include:

  • Bleeding in stool, which can appear as reddish or black stools, can be serious. Let your doctor know about this immediately, or go to an emergency room.
  • Blood clots to the lungsare rare, happening less than 1% of the time. They can be life-threatening. But blood clots can usually be prevented with blood thinning drugs and frequent activity.
  • Leaks in the new connections made by the weight loss surgery are rare, but serious. They usually occur within 5 days of the surgery. Abdominal pain and feeling ill are common symptoms -- these should prompt a call to your doctor.

Also, you may notice that your skin is sagging. You may choose to get surgery to remove it.

Nutrition After Weight Loss Surgery

Weight loss surgery changes how your body handles food. It becomes harder to absorb certain nutrients, including:

You don't have to fall short on those nutrients. Ask your doctor if you need to take supplements.

Lifestyle Changes After Weight Loss Surgery

You can get dramatic results from weight loss surgery. You'll need to back those up with lifestyle changes to keep the pounds off.

These tips can help:

Eat small, frequent meals. The small stomach created by weight loss surgery can only hold so much. Eating large meals can cause problems. Many people with obesity are binge eaters. Adapting to eating smaller meals can be a challenge.

Commit to good nutrition . Ask a dietitian to help you create a plan that will get you all the nutrients you need.

Exercise. It helps you keep the weight off, and it's often easier after weight loss surgery, because losing weight may have helped your joints.

Many weight loss surgery centers offer programs to help people shift to a healthier lifestyle before and after weight loss surgery.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Michael Dansinger, MD on February 08, 2015

Sources

SOURCES:

Brethauer, S. Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine, November 2006.

Schauer P. Surgical Clinics of North America, Oct. 1, 2001.

Buchwald, H. The Journal of the American Medical Association, Oct. 13, 2004.

Virji, A. American Family Physician, April 15, 2006.

Shah, M. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, Nov. 1, 2006.

WebMD Feature: "Life After Weight Loss Surgery."

WebMD Medical Reference: "Gastric Bypass Surgery."

American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery: "Rationale for the Surgical Treatment of Morbid Obesity."

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