A Look At The Gastric Sleeve Recovery Timeline

A Look At The Gastric Sleeve Recovery Timeline Image

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Published August 7, 2022

Gastric sleeve recovery is different for each person who undergoes the procedure. A lot depends on your body, lifestyle, and whether any complications develop during or after surgery.

However, it typically takes four to six weeks. During that period, the pain gradually goes away with the help of medication, and the patient slowly transitions from drinking clear liquids to eating solid foods.

Recovery is also marked by a slow return to regular activity and exercise. If you’re thinking about undergoing a gastric sleeve procedure or you’ve recently had surgery, here’s what you can expect.

Gastric Sleeve Recovery

Gastric sleeve surgery is designed to help patients lose significant weight when other methods haven’t worked. Not only does this improve quality of life, but it also reduces the risk of obesity-related health conditions. The procedure involves removing a portion of the stomach to reduce the amount of food that can be eaten. Because it’s a surgical procedure, you should understand the recovery process beforehand to know what to expect.

Immediately Following Surgery

Coming out of anesthesia is the first stage in recovering from gastric sleeve surgery. Most patients get general anesthesia with volatile anesthetics and neuromuscular blockade which has been linked to an increased risk of respiratory complications in individuals with morbid obesity.

Also, people who undergo bariatric surgery can take longer to become conscious and aware because the anesthetic gets stored in fat. However, recovery from anesthesia should still occur immediately given the recommendations for anesthetists involved in bariatric procedures.

Pain management is another major concern right after surgery. Patients tend to experience pain radiating from the incision sites, especially the one that was made to allow the resected part of the stomach to be removed. However, pain medicine is administered via IV in hospital.

A diagram illustrating the sequential stages of gastric sleeve surgery and its average recovery period.

Week 1

What you do in the first week after surgery will help to set you up for long-term success. There is an established Enhanced Recovery After Bariatric Surgery Protocol which will likely start in the hospital. 

Before you go home, you’ll:

  • Have a completely liquid diet
  • Get IV hydration fluids
  • Begin walking and moving around with help from a physical therapist
  • Meet with a dietician

Diet

You will only be discharged from the hospital when you no longer need fluids via IV and you can manage an oral liquid protein diet.

In Stage 1 of this four-stage diet, it’s important to consume at least 64 ounces of liquid per day, take in adequate protein and electrolytes, and use powdered multivitamins.

Wound Care

The incision sites from the procedure will still be tender and you’ll need to take good care of them so as to prevent infection. This will involve gently washing the area with soap and water and patting it dry with a clean towel or letting it air dry. You can also cover the site with sterile bandages when necessary.

Pain Management

Oral prescription or over-the-counter pain medications will be taken during this time.

Physical Activity

You’ll gradually increase your level of physical activity as the first week progresses. By the fifth day, you can begin light physical activity and start taking your usual baths or showers.

Weeks 2 to 4

You’ll likely start to notice weight loss in the first week or two.

Diet

During weeks two to four, you’ll transition to Stage 2 of your diet which features pureed foods. You’ll need to watch out for nausea and abdominal cramping which are signs of dumping syndrome – when food moves from the stomach to the duodenum too quickly.

Wound Healing

After two weeks, the incisions should be completely healed. You’ll need to moisturize the area frequently to reduce scarring and apply sunscreen if the scars will be exposed to the sun.

Pain Management

If you’re still experiencing pain or discomfort after the first week, over-the-counter medication should be enough to control it. After the second or third week, most patients don’t need any pain medication.

Physical Activity

Patients are often able to resume driving after the first week if they aren’t taking prescription pain medications. It may also be possible to return to work during the two- to four-week period depending on what your job entails.

Weeks 4 to 6

Life gets closer to normal at this point.

Diet

Patients typically transition from pureed foods to soft foods including non-starchy vegetables and fruits. You may also be able to eat slightly larger meals.

Physical activity

By this point, you should be able to resume most daily activities. If your doctor gives you the okay, you may be able to do some heavy lifting. However, it typically takes six to eight weeks before patients can do lots of strenuous activity.

Weeks 7 and Onward

After six weeks have passed, most patients have recovered from their gastric sleeve procedure. They graduate from soft foods to the stabilization diet which includes almost all foods. While you’ll be able to eat solid meals, you may need to reintroduce them slowly so your body can get accustomed again.

Wound Healing

The gastric pouch should heal within six to four weeks. However, you’ll need to manage your portion sizes so it doesn’t become stretched and result in weight gain.

When to Call Your Surgeon

Immediately following surgery, you will be monitored but may be allowed to leave the same day as the procedure. Following your bariatric surgeon’s directions carefully ensures the best chances of a smooth recovery. It’s important to call if you experience any concerning side effects or if you have questions about your recovery.

It’s also important to know when it’s an emergency, and you should call for help. This includes more than expected pain, bloody stools, fever, or any other signs of infection. Call as soon as you notice any of these symptoms for the best results.

Post-Operative Diet

After surgery, you will be on a restricted diet. Immediately following the procedure, you will only be allowed to consume liquids. Options include water, decaffeinated tea or coffee, and other sugar-free drinks. You may be able to handle broth as well. Avoid alcohol or carbonated beverages, as they can slow the healing process.

After a few days, you will likely be able to add solid foods back into your meal plan. Eating only what your surgeon recommends is important to speed the healing process and prevent potential problems. Good options include mashed potatoes, scrambled eggs, and cooked hot cereal like oatmeal.

Long-term, gastric sleeve surgery will limit the quantity of food you can eat. This reduces your overall calorie intake and leads to weight loss. The surgery is permanent, and going forward, you should aim to eat five or six small meals per day rather than three larger ones. This helps you get the right amount of nutrients with your new smaller stomach.

You should also avoid processed foods, such as packaged snacks, desserts, and potato chips. These items are low in nutrients but high in fat and calories and don’t have a place in a healthy weight loss diet. Instead, focus on whole foods that satisfy your nutrient needs for fewer calories.

You may need to take vitamins or supplements to fill in nutrient gaps because you cannot eat as much as the average person after gastric sleeve surgery. Follow your surgeon’s directions carefully to ensure that you are getting the most out of any vitamins or supplements that are recommended.

Other Advice

Going forward, engaging in an appropriate amount of healthy physical activity and making nutritious and balanced eating choices is recommended. It’s also essential to attend all of your post-operative appointments. This allows your surgeon to monitor your recovery and make changes to your routine if they are necessary. It also makes it more likely that potential problems can be caught early so they don’t hinder your recovery. Provided you follow recovery guidelines, you can expect to lose 30 to 60 percent of your excess weight in the months following your surgery.

The Bottomline on Gastric Sleeve Recovery

What we’ve discussed above is a general timeline so your recovery process may not be exactly the same. You’ll work with your surgeon to determine if any modifications need to be made. The important thing is to take the process one step at a time and follow the advice of your doctors.

If you experience challenges, be sure to seek help. Meanwhile, if you haven’t yet undergone surgery, reach out to Renew Bariatrics to learn about your weight loss options.

Awad, S., Carter, S., Purkayastha, S., Hakky, S., Moorthy, K., Cousins, J., & Ahmed, A. R. (2014). Enhanced recovery after bariatric surgery (ERABS): clinical outcomes from a tertiary referral bariatric centre. Obesity surgery24(5), 753–758. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11695-013-1151-4

Nightingale, C.E., Margarson, M.P., Shearer, E., Redman, J.W., Lucas, D.N., Cousins, J.M., Fox, W.T.A., Kennedy, N.J., Venn, P.J., Skues, M., Gabbott, D., Misra, U., Pandit, J.J., Popat, M. and Griffiths, R. (2015), Peri-operative management of the obese surgical patient 2015. Anaesthesia, 70: 859-876. https://doi.org/10.1111/anae.13101

Pelosi, P., Croci, M., Ravagnan, I., Cerisara, M., Vicardi, P., Lissoni, A., & Gattinoni, L. (1997). Respiratory system mechanics in sedated, paralyzed, morbidly obese patients. Journal of applied physiology (Bethesda, Md.: 1985), 82(3), 811–818. https://doi.org/10.1152/jappl.1997.82.3.811

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