What are Gastric Sleeve Surgery Risks?
As with any surgical procedure, potential risks and complications can occur. Although these problems rarely happen, it’s important to know the facts. If you're considering gastric sleeve surgery, we encourage you to educate yourself about what to expect, and about the potential risks.
The more you know, the better prepared you'll be not only for your surgery, but for the life changes it will bring.
Gastric Sleeve Surgery Risks and Complications
Even with the greatest of care, complications—both physical and psychosocial—can still sometimes arise either during or after any type of surgery. One of the most important things to know about gastric sleeve surgery is that it's faster, easier and safer than other bariatric procedures such as gastric bypass and gastric banding.
It's also considered one of the safest procedures you can have, with a lower mortality rate than even some of the most common surgeries.
The mortality rate for gastric sleeve surgery is just 0.19%, while for hip replacement, it's 0.29%, and for a cesarean section, it's 0.40%. Yes, death is one of the risks of gastric sleeve surgery, but it's a risk in any type of major surgery, and is the rarest risk.
Staple Line Leaks
One of the most common serious complications of gastric sleeve surgery is staple line leaks. This is when digestive contents leak from the stomach into the abdominal cavity.
During surgery, the surgeon removes a portion of the stomach, and then staples the remaining portion, which is what forms the gastric sleeve. The remaining portion is closed with a line of staples along the incision. It's rare, but sometimes leaking can occur along this staple line.
Staple line leaks can lead to infection or abscess, and may require additional surgery to treat and fix the problem.
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease
This condition, also known as GERD, is one of the more common issues you may experience after gastric sleeve surgery. The good news is, it doesn't last forever. Only about 20% of patients suffer from it in the first year after surgery, and that rate drops to about 3% after three years following surgery.
Other Possible Physical Complications
Some of the physical complications of gastric sleeve surgery include, but are not limited to:
- Stomach or intestinal perforation or leakage (staple line leaks), which may cause peritonitis or abscess
- Internal bleeding, which may require transfusion
- Wound opening or infection, or incisional hernia
- Injury to the spleen or other organ, which may require removal
- Obstruction of the bowel or gastric outlet
- Pneumonia, collapsed lung, or fluid in the chest
- Pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs)
- Blood clots in the legs or lungs (embolism)
- Myocardial infarction (heart attack) or congestive heart failure
- Arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat)
- Acute kidney failure
- Liver failure
- Hepatitis, which may progress to cirrhosis
- Death; very rare, but still a possibility to be aware of
Possible Psychosocial Complications
Some gastric sleeve surgery complications are not physical, but can affect the patient's mental health. Some of these psychosocial issues include, but are not limited to:
- Anorexia nervosa or bulimia
- Dysfunctional social problems
Other Possible Complications
- Minor wound or skin infection
- Urinary tract infection
- Allergic reactions to drugs or medications
- Vomiting or nausea
- Inability to eat certain foods
- Inflammation of the esophagus (esophagitis) or acid reflux (heartburn)
- Low sodium, potassium, or blood sugar
- Low blood pressure
- Narrowing or stretching of the gastric outlet
- Anemia or metabolic deficiency (iron, vitamins, minerals)
- Temporary hair loss
- Constipation, diarrhea, bloating, cramping, malodorous stool or gas
- Gallstones or gallbladder disease
- Stomach or gastric outlet ulcers (peptic ulcer)
- Weight gain or failure to lose weight
- Intolerance to refined sugars
Aftereffects of Gastric Sleeve Surgery
While the procedure carries certain risks and complications, there is one aftereffect of gastric sleeve surgery that is not directly related to the surgery itself—sagging skin.
This is often a result of dramatic weight loss, which is the primary goal of gastric sleeve surgery. Depending on your weight before you have the procedure, and your body's unique makeup, once you've lost a large amount of weight, you may be left with excess skin in certain areas such as your arms, abdomen, chest and buttocks.
Some people decide to live with the excess skin rather than take steps to correct it. However, this can lead to other problems with health, hygiene and lifestyle. For example, you may develop skin fold rashes, and possibly even infections caused by moisture buildup and friction that break down the skin's protective layers.
You may also find it difficult to exercise, or even engage in simple activities such as walking. Although you will have lost a large amount of weight in the form of fat, excess skin will still add weight to your body, putting strain and stress on your muscles and joints.
One of the joys of losing weight is being able to wear stylish clothing. This may still be very difficult for you to do if you have too much excess skin. You may still need to wear plus-size clothing to accommodate the skin left behind on your body.
This is not an impossible problem, though. Once you have reached your goal weight, you may wish to pursue cosmetic surgery to remove this excess skin, and complete your body's transformation. Procedures such as a tummy tuck can not only remove this excess skin, but tighten your muscles to create a slimmer profile.
Discuss the potential gastric sleeve surgery complications with your surgeon to ensure you fully understand the possible risks, and can make an educated decision about this life-changing procedure.