Many people have a lot of confidence in gastric sleeve surgery. It has been proven to be a safe and effective way of losing weight. Studies show you can lose at least 50% of excess weight in the first 18 to 24 months after the surgery.
Like any other surgical procedure, gastric sleeve comes with its fair share of complications. But ultimately, gastric sleeve wins the risk vs. reward analysis. However, it helps to be aware of these possible issues you might encounter during and after the procedure.
How Gastric Sleeve Compares to Other Surgeries
Gastric sleeve surgery is a weight-loss surgery where the surgeon removes 80% of your stomach, leaving behind a small tube-like stomach. The procedure is done laparoscopically. This means that the surgeon inserts a camera and other instruments through a small incision made in the abdomen.
The patient eats less food and gets hungrier slower with the smaller stomach size.
The new stomach typically carries 4 ounces or 120 milliliters of food. That is much less than a normal stomach would. In some cases, this is the cause of certain complications a patient might develop post-op.
Gastric sleeve is also permanent. Compared to the gastric band, the gastric sleeve procedure cannot be reversed. With the former, the band can be removed in case of complications. With gastric sleeve, the portion of the stomach removed is permanently taken out of the body.
Benefits of Gastric Sleeve
The benefits of gastric sleeve surgery far outweigh the risks. Generally, you’ll be able to effectively lose weight after the procedure. Some patients report losing up to 60lbs in the first 5 months.
After getting gastric sleeve surgery, you’ll only be able to eat about half a cup of food at a time. Since you’re eating less food than before, you’ll be taking in fewer calories, effectively leading to losing weight.
Other benefits of this procedure include:
- Compared to gastric bypass surgery, gastric sleeve is quicker and technically easier to perform
- You achieve more weight loss than Lap Band and slightly less than gastric bypass
- You don’t get dumping syndrome, unlike gastric bypass
- The weight loss is rapid, with most weight being lost in the first year after the surgery.
- You don’t require band adjustments, unlike Lap Band surgery
General Risks of Gastric Sleeve
Studies show that the safety of gastric sleeve and other bariatric surgeries is similar to other kinds of surgeries. In 2010, a study at Stanford University further showed an average mortality rate of 0.8%.
But that also means that the reality of developing complications is not far-fetched. These are some risks you can expect with gastric sleeve.
- Blood clots
- Anastomotic or gastrointestinal leaks
When a skilled surgeon performs the surgery, you should expect very few complications. But when they do happen, they have a range of impacts. Some complications can be minor, while others can be life-threatening.
Moreover, some complications are long-term, meaning they can last up to six months after the surgery. Some may also appear up to six months after the surgery.
Some complications may also be caused by poor adherence to diet practices advised by the surgeon or consultant dietician. If you start frequently overeating, you may not lose much weight and develop post-op complications.
Most Common Post-Op Risks
Post-op risks or complications can develop within the first two weeks or several weeks after.
The First Two Weeks
The most severe complications typically occur during this period. At this stage, you are recovering from the surgery and adjusting to your new diet. The following can occur.
Staple Line Leaks
This is the most dreaded complication during the first week after surgery. Surgeons usually test, double-check, and over-sew staple lines during gastric sleeve surgery to avoid this complication.
A staple line leak leads to a gastrointestinal leak. The common symptoms for this complication include:
- Difficulty or altered breathing
- Increased heart rate
Call your doctor immediately you experience these symptoms. Thankfully, according to a study, the risk of developing it is 2.4%.
Thrombosis (Blood Clots)
Blood cots after any surgery are usually life-threatening and should be addressed immediately. Thankfully, hospitals and physicians are fully aware of this and often take measures to prevent a blood clot from happening.
Otherwise known as a thrombus, a blood clot forms when an injury is caused during surgery to an otherwise healthy blood vessel. Clots are also more likely to form when blood flow is impaired due to a lack of mobility after surgery.
The most common symptoms of this complication include:
- Loss of sensation
- Pale color in the affected area
Call your doctor immediately you suspect you have a blood clot. Clots can quickly lead to a stroke, heart attack, or death. Most surgeons will recommend you stay active for a short while after surgery to reduce the risk of developing blood clots.
Smokers are usually at the highest risk of developing this complication. Thankfully, the risk is very low, at 1%.
A stricture occurs when the opening to or from the stomach becomes inflamed. This may result in a blockage which will prevent all or some of the food from adequately entering the stomach or intestines.
Strictures can be chronic or acute. This means they can develop quickly or become an ongoing issue after surgery.
The most common symptoms of a stricture include:
- Difficulty swallowing
- Nausea or vomiting
- Food intolerance
Call your doctor immediately if you develop these symptoms, especially if you have difficulty swallowing and you vomit or feel nauseated every time you eat.
One study has shown that strictures occur in 3.5% of gastric sleeve surgeries. Though it can be serious, often, it’s treated with a simple endoscopic dilation.
Wound Site Infection
A wound site infection is an infection at or under the area where small incisions were made for the laparoscopic gastric sleeve surgery. Wound site infections can happen after any form of surgery. Obese people carry the highest risk of developing this complication.
If not treated promptly with antibiotics, wound site infections can lead to widespread infection, tissue death, and mortality.
The common symptoms for this complication include:
- Increased heart rate
- Redness at the incision area
- Heat at the incision area
- Lightheadedness or dizziness
Always follow your doctor’s preoperative guidelines to take care of your wounds after surgery properly. According to this study, wound site infections are pretty common with a 10-15% rate of occurrence.
These complications occur anytime after your surgery. They are usually not life-threatening. Still, they are not so pleasant.
Nutritional deficiencies are less common with gastric sleeve compared to duodenal switch surgery and gastric bypass. However, there’s still a risk. About 12% of gastric sleeve patients experience nutritional deficiency.
Common symptoms of this complication include:
- Abnormally pale skin
- Hair loss
- Menstrual issues
- Trouble concentrating
Call your doctor immediately if the symptoms are severe and you cannot take the recommended supplements. Otherwise, mention this to your doctor at the next appointment.
This complication is prevalent after gastric sleeve surgery. One study shows a prevalence of 23% for most patients within two years after the surgery.
Common symptoms for gallstones include:
- Pain in the upper back and upper abdomen. The pain may last a few hours
- Indigestion, bloating, gas, and heartburn
Go straight to the emergency room if you’re experiencing intense pain. Also, let your doctor know if you’re experiencing gas, bloating, and heartburn.
It is common to have Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) after most weight-loss surgeries. Varying evidence shows whether it increases or decreases after gastric sleeve surgery. Some studies suggest up to 47% of patients may experience it.
GERD is commonly treated through medication. Surgery may be recommended if it remains persistent.
Complications During Surgery
A patient can develop several other complications during gastric sleeve surgery. Thankfully, most of them can be managed during the surgery. If the surgeon doesn’t handle them well, they might show up in the first two weeks after the surgery.
The following are possible complications you can develop during the procedure.
This occurs typically at the staple line. Qualified surgeons will use several techniques to test for leaks before finishing the surgery. They might use air, a dye test, or an EGD (Esophagogastroduodenoscopy) to better visualize the staple line from the inside.
If dealt with at this stage, the surgeon may prevent post-op gastric leaks that lead to infections and possibly death.
Unnoticed Gastric Laceration
The surgeon may accidentally cut (lacerate) the stomach without noticing. These lacerations can be properly fixed before the stomach is closed.
Other Complications During Surgery
The following can also happen during surgery:
- Obstructed visibility due to an enlarged liver. This is common with most bariatric patients.
- Adhesions – this is caused by internal tissues sticking together. It is common in patients who’ve had previous abdominal surgery or illness.
- Controlled bleeding – it is normal to lose blood during surgery. It is typically not an issue if it’s controlled quickly.
Get the Full Advice of a Qualified Surgeon
The only way to know what to expect and get the best results from your gastric sleeve surgery is by getting in touch with a qualified bariatric surgeon. You’ll be given the best advice on what to do pre and post-op to reduce the chances of developing any of these complications.