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Post-Bariatric Surgery: What To Expect

An image of a woman who's hands are stretched behind her neck for a blog post on what to expect after bariatric surgery

Post-Bariatric Surgery: What To Expect

Gastric bypass surgery, otherwise known as bariatric surgery, is a potential weight loss option for those in whom non-pharmacological methods, such as diet and weight loss, and pharmacological options, such as medication, have not worked in reducing weight. This surgery entails making changes to one’s digestive system by either reducing the amount someone can eat or by reducing the body’s ability to absorb fat and calories. The procedure is a large undertaking, both for the patient and their surgeon, as it involves a large surgical field; recent techniques have allowed surgeons to do these procedures in a minimally invasive manner, so there may not be a need to create a large opening within the patient. Whether it is done in a minimally invasive manner or not, recovery after the procedure is important.

Depending on the type of bariatric surgery done, patients can remain in the hospital for up to three days. This is done mainly to monitor the patient for any acute complications, such as operative site bleeding. Nausea and vomiting are a couple of the expected side effects after surgery, and these symptoms can be managed while the patient is in the hospital. Other side effects such as fatigue and weakness are expected, and these can be managed outside of the hospital. Once out of the hospital, patients can return to work after at least a week, but this can be extended to up to two weeks, making the total recovery time about two to three weeks. The surgeon will follow up with the patient at regular intervals, to make sure that the wound is healing well and to check the patient’s progress with regards to their weight loss journey.

During the recovery period, patients will also need to re-learn how to eat. Directly following the procedure, patients will not be allowed to eat anything for one to two days. This allows the stomach and the rest of the digestive system to heal after the stressful procedure. Once this period has passed, patients will be put on a liquid diet for a few weeks, then transition into a soft diet, which would consist primarily of soft foods like porridge and noodle soup. When both of these diets are tolerated by the patient’s new digestive system, they can go back to eating normal food. This will also take about two to three weeks, depending on how well the patient tolerates the different levels of feeding.

The pain after bariatric surgery will be in its most acute stage directly after the procedure. The pain can come directly from the incision site (where the surgery was done) or it can come as a result from how the patient’s body was positioned during the surgery. Typically, patients undergoing a bariatric procedure are anesthetized using general anesthesia. The general anesthesia used may be an inhalant, so pain is expected in the neck and shoulders, depending on how the patient is positioned to inhale the anesthesia. This pain can easily be controlled with different methods; oral opioids are only given in the first few days after surgery, after which non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are given. This is to prevent any more adverse effects from opioids, such as addiction and constipation.

Three to six weeks after bariatric surgery, strenuous activities, such as lifting objects that weigh 15 to 20 pounds and bending over, are not recommended. This is because the additional strain can cause the incision sites both within the abdominal cavity and on the surface to open, thus possibly causing bleeding and infection. After the procedure, patients are taught how to cough and breath in order to control this increase in pressure. Heavy exercise is not recommended; however, light exercise is still encouraged. This will allow for a faster recovery in bariatric patients, as it helps increase blood flow to the digestive system, which will increase the factors necessary to facilitate wound healing. All other activities of daily living, such as showering and household chores, are possible after the procedure, as long as the patient is mindful of what actions they shouldn’t be doing.

For those interested in a bariatric procedure in the Miami area, the surgeon at Elite Surgical Miami is available for an initial consultation.

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