Bariatric Surgery: Understanding the Complications, Risks, and Side Effects

complications and risks from weight loss surgery

Bariatric surgery, also known as weight loss surgery, has become an increasingly popular option for treating obesity. Different types of bariatric procedures like gastric bypass, sleeve gastrectomy, and laparoscopic adjustable gastric banding provide effective and lasting weight loss for many patients.

However, these procedures do carry risks and potential complications that need careful consideration. In this post we'll examine the short and long-term risks patients should be aware of.

Surgical Risk Factors

As with any major surgery, bariatric procedures involve anesthesia and changing the anatomy of digestive organs. This poses challenges including:

  • Infection - any surgery has infection risks from incisions or internal issues post-procedure
  • Blood clots - formed by lack of movement during recovery
  • Organ injury during surgery like:
    • Stomach/intestine leaks or perforations
    • Damage to the spleen
    • Liver problems
  • Respiratory issues like pneumonia or impaired breathing from anesthesia
  • Adverse reactions to anesthesia - nausea, vomiting, cardiovascular issues

Proper surgical protocols minimize risks, but dangers remain higher with:

  • High BMI (>50)
  • Older patients
  • Related health issues - heart disease, lung disease, diabetes, etc.

Long-Term Nutritional Deficiencies

The anatomical changes made in bariatric surgery limit food intake and absorption of key nutrients over the long run. After surgery, you will also need to eat a bariatric-friendly diet to help with malnutrition.

Nutritional deficiencies include:

  • Iron
  • Vitamin B12
  • Calcium
  • Vitamin D
  • Other vitamins/minerals

This often requires taking nutritional supplements for life after bariatric surgery.

Vitamin/Mineral Complication if Deficient
Iron Anemia
Calcium Osteoporosis
Vitamin B12 Neuropathy
Vitamin D Bone Density Loss, Muscle Weakness
Folate Anemia, Cognitive Difficulties
Zinc Hair Loss, Immune Dysfunction
Thiamine (Vitamin B1) Beriberi, Wernicke's Encephalopathy

Gastrointestinal Issues

Re-routing the digestive system leads to elevated gastrointestinal issues like:

  • Ulcers
  • Bowel obstructions
  • Hernias
  • Chronic nausea/vomiting
  • Acid reflux

In a study of 250 post-bariatric surgery patients:

  • 23% developed gallstones
  • 15% had gastrointestinal ulcers
  • 12% had symptomatic reflux disease

Managing nutrition, lifestyle and medications helps prevent GI complications.

Excess Skin

Losing significant amounts of weight leaves most patients with loose, overhanging skin. This can cause physical discomfort, mobility issues, and emotional distress.

  • Many patients opt for body contouring surgery like:
    • Tummy tucks
    • Arm/thigh lifts
    • Breast lifts
  • But skin removal surgery adds additional risks and costs.
weight loss surgery quote


Conclusion - Consider All Factors

For patients struggling with severe obesity, bariatric surgery facilitates incredible weight loss and health gains when successful. However, these procedures are serious surgeries with potentially life-long implications. All patients should consider both benefits and risks with their medical team before choosing surgery. Lifestyle changes or alternative procedures may better suit some patients. Thorough understanding of complications allows properly managing risks and expectations after bariatric surgeries as well.

Writer: Allison

Allison is a seasoned nutritionist and writer with over 15 years in health and weight management. She's authored journals on medical weight loss and bariatric medicine, and has specialized in bariatric foods.

Reviewed By: Dr. K. Huffman

Dr. Kevin D. Huffman, D.O., is a board-certified bariatric physician renowned for his expertise in treating obesity. With over 10,000 patients and a reputation as a national leader in bariatric medicine, he has trained hundreds of healthcare providers. Dr. Huffman develops protocols and training materials sought after by medical societies, pharmaceutical companies, patients, and hospitals.