Weight Loss Surgery Risks


While the benefits of weight loss surgery are compelling, it's important to remember that no surgical procedure is without risk. Weight loss surgery, from the least invasive laparoscopic surgery to the most invasive open procedure, is no exception.

Any time anesthesia is in use, there are risks of allergic reaction or breathing problems. This is true for any surgical procedure and is not specific to weight loss surgery. Other risks that may be part of any surgery include the possibility of blood clots, infection, blood loss, heart attack or stroke.

The most serious risk that is specific to bariatric surgery is the potential for gastric leaks that can develop into potentially life-threatening conditions such as peritonitis.

Patients are susceptible to other risks after the surgical procedure, including gastritis, ulcers, hernia, anemia and other problems related to poor nutrition. Patients can also experience dumping syndrome, vomiting and kidney stones.

Post-operative complications are not uncommon in weight loss surgery. One 2006 study indicates a complication rate of 21.9% in initial surgery, with a 39.6% complication rate in the six months following surgery.(1)

The risks of complications are significantly lower when patients are treated by experienced surgeons specializing in bariatric surgery, especially when the procedures are performed at "high-volume centers,"(2) that is, facilities that specialize in bariatric surgery.

This is supported by recent research from Duke University Medical Center indicating that bariatric weight loss surgery is as safe as any other routine surgical procedure. (3)

According to a review of data from nearly 60,000 patients, the surgical complication rate is around 10%, far less than the nearly 22% rate indicated by the 2006 study cited above.

This data was compiled from patients treated at facilities accredited by the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery as Bariatric Surgery Centers of Excellence, supporting the idea that patients face lower complication risks when seeking treatment from specialized, accredited facilities.

For those in need, the benefits of weight loss surgery are substantial, but it's important to understand the risks involved. You should discuss with your doctors the risks you'll be assuming by undergoing weight loss surgery and what you can expect after the surgery. By consulting with your doctors and by learning all you can about weight loss surgery, you can make the most informed decision on what is best for you.



(1) Encinosa WE, Bernard DM, Chen CC, Steiner CA (2006). "Healthcare utilization and outcomes after bariatric surgery". Medical Care: August 2006 - Volume 44 - Issue 8 - pp 706-712

(2) Snow V, Barry P, Fitterman N, Qaseem A, Weiss K (2005). "Pharmacologic and surgical management of obesity in primary care: a clinical practice guideline from the American College of Physicians". Annals of Internal Medicine 142 (7) - pp 25–31

(3) Duke University Medical Center (2009, July 6) "Large-scale Analysis Finds Bariatric Surgery Relatively Safe" ScienceDaily accessed 3/1/2010