Roux-en-Y gastric bypass, also known as gastric bypass, is one of the most common types of bariatric surgery performed in the United States to help patients who struggle with obesity. Surgeons conduct the procedure in two steps, beginning by stapling the stomach and creating a small pouch in the upper part of the organ. After that, the surgeon will connect the newly-created pouch to the middle of the small intestine. Bariatric surgery is intended particularly for obese patients who failed to lose weight with other non-surgical options, and gastric bypass works by transporting food directly from the pouch to the middle of the small intestine.

Since food cannot pass through the other part of the stomach and the first part of the small intestine, the surgery results in an increase of satiety, and the patient feels full faster with smaller amounts of food. At the same time, the surgery also rearranges the digestive system, resulting in an intentional malabsorption and decrease in the amount of calories that can be absorbed by the digestive system. It is an effective treatment for obesity, but there are also risks associated with the surgery that prospective patients need to be aware of.

Possible Short- and Long-Term Risks Associated With Gastric Bypass

Gastric bypass is a safe and effective type of weight loss surgery, however, there is the possibility of complications related to the surgery itself as well as aftermath. Anastomotic leaks, pulmonary embolism, pneumonia allergy to the medication used in the anesthesia, blood clots, infection, and lung or breathing problems are the most common risks following the surgery. In the case of open surgery (the least common type), patients are at risk of incisional hernia, organ injury during the surgery, and wound infection, while in the case of laparoscopic surgery, the risks include bowel obstruction, gastrointestinal tract hemorrhage, and stomal stenosis.

Short-term risks occur in about 10% of the cases, while long-term occurrences happen in 15.3%. The latter include bowel obstruction, dumping syndrome that results in diarrhea, nausea or vomiting, the development of gallstones or hernias, low blood sugar also known as hypoglycemia, malnutrition (more common when patients don’t take supplementary vitamins and minerals), iron or calcium deficiencies, stomach perforation, ulcers, vomiting, and staple-line failure in the pouch. Death is particularly rare but can also occur.

Gastric Bypass Risks Compared to Efficacy of the Treatment

Prior to a final decision regarding a gastric bypass or other type of bariatric surgery, patients should be aware of the potential risks. However, they should weigh the risks alongside the results that can be achieved. Gastric bypass has been scientifically proven to help patients lose between 60 and 80% of excessive weight two to three years after the procedure, making it one of the most effective weight loss procedures.

The study “Risks and benefits of bariatric surgery: Current evidence, notes: “Outcomes of bariatric surgery are getting better all the time, as surgeons gain experience in performing these technically demanding procedures laparoscopically. The risks are not trivial, but they are acceptably low. The benefits: not only do patients lose weight and keep it off, now there are convincing data that many patients are cured of obesity-related diseases, notably type 2 diabetes. In fact, the procedure may pay for itself within a few years by reducing medical costs due to obesity-related illness. Best of all, the longterm mortality rate seems to be lower for morbidly obese patients who undergo this surgery than for those who do not.”

How to Prevent Risks Associated with Gastric Bypass Surgery

There are numerous steps that can be taken to help prevent risks and ensure the success of gastric bypass surgery. The first step is taken even before the surgery: finding a certified medical center and physician, as well as discussing the eligibility for bariatric surgery with the healthcare team is essential.

Similarly, patients need to be aware of the commitment to following health plans both before and after gastric bypass surgery, which includes preparation, the surgery, and the follow-up period. The surgery itself doesn’t provoke weight loss alone, but it can help patients as they initiate a healthy diet and regular exercise. In addition, patients need to continue with regular medical visits and to follow the physician’s recommendations regarding medication, supplements, diet and physical activity. If one of the complications occur, additional surgeries may be needed to correct the problem.

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