Gastric Sleeve Surgery: Recovery

The most popular form of weight loss surgery performed in the U.S. and abroad, gastric sleeve surgery is a procedure in which a majority of the stomach is removed. The operation, itself, doesn’t remove excess pounds, but rather, the reduction in digestive capacity sets up the conditions for rapid loss of weight.

Given the scope of the procedure, as well as the changes that need to be made afterward, the recovery period is particularly critical. This time involves careful monitoring and follow-up as well as significant dietary and lifestyle changes. If you’re thinking about gastric sleeve surgery, it’s important to understand what recovery and rehabilitation look like.

weight loss after gastric sleeve surgery
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Surgery Follow-Up

In most cases, patients recover in the hospital for at least two nights following gastric sleeve surgery. Once the medical staff is sure that there are no complications and that the procedure has succeeded, you should be clear to go home.

Since the weight loss actually occurs in the 12 to 24 months following surgery, it’s absolutely essential that you stick closely to your doctor’s and dietitian’s orders. Critical for success in this time will be your follow-up appointments. While specific timing may vary based on your case, these include:

  • Initial follow-up: The first follow-up appointment—usually with the surgeon who performed the work—occurs at two to three weeks following the procedure. At the first appointment, after ensuring that everything is healing appropriately, you’ll also consult with a dietician to talk about your post-operative diet plan.
  • Two to three months: At a second follow-up, progress will be assessed, and you’ll need to again consult with the dietitian. Here the priority is to ensure that the physical changes are working alongside lifestyle ones to promote weight loss.
  • Semiannual check-ups: At six months and one year, you’ll have two more follow-up appointments, usually conducted by either your primary physician, another doctor, or a nurse practitioner. The first of these will also include an appointment with your dietitian. During these, and subsequent appointments, you’ll need to have a full panel of lab work done on your blood. This assesses levels of certain important hormones, proteins, and minerals in your system, which tells doctors how well digestion is working.
  • Long-term tracking: As noted above, most of the weight loss due to gastric sleeve surgery occurs within the first one to years. The changes you make, aided by the reduced size of the stomach, will be what causes you to lose weight. As such, you’ll need to come back in for follow-up once a year.

Keep in mind that follow-up schedules are tailored to the individual case; make sure to talk to your doctor and dietician about what to expect after surgery.

Recovery Timeline

Since gastric sleeve surgery is such a significant procedure, it takes some time before you’re back to your regular activities. In addition, you’ll have to adjust to your new, smaller stomach, and healthier lifestyle.

You’ll get a great deal of counseling about what to do during this time—and individual cases vary—but what does recovery look like? Here’s what you can expect.

First Two Weeks

When first back home, you’ll be on a prescribed, all-liquid diet of protein shakes. In addition to any kind of food, you’ll have to avoid caffeinated beverages, including black and green tea, emphasizing water or clear juices instead.

You can and should get some physical activity during this time; aim for at least a half-hour walk a day, slowly scaling up after two weeks. Avoid deep bending or lifting anything over 20 pounds.

Depending on recovery, you should be able to go back to work after two to four weeks, and it’s OK to drive two to three days after discharge. Showers are alright to take, but don’t take baths.

Weeks Three to Six

Once given the OK from your doctor, you’ll be able to start an all-pureed diet. Importantly, doctors will advise you to separate fluid intake from meals, which start to consist proteins and fruits that have gone through a food processer.

Basically, you’ll need at least 15 minutes after drinking fluids before you can eat, and you need to wait an hour before you can drink after eating. Your physical regimen will continue to expand—though you won’t be ready to lift weights.

After One Month

Around week five after surgery, you can start to incorporate soft, easy to digest foods, such as slow-cooked meat, and boiled vegetables. You’ll still need to avoid fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as heavier and drier meats.

Eating throughout the post-operative period needs to be slow and mindful. Most are able to begin full exercise at around four weeks, and physical activity will continue to be emphasized. Usually after about a month, it will be safe for you to swim or take a bath.

Two Months and Beyond

The final, soft food phase of diet, with clearance, can finally shift to what will become your new normal. It’s at this point, too, that you can start drinking coffee and tea.

Doctors advise that patients remain mindful as they start reintroducing foods, and that they emphasize healthy choices. You’ll also need to continue to wait at least one hour before drinking after eating. Finally, doctors recommend you abstain from alcohol for at least one year.

Keep in mind that the scope and scale of the changes you’ll need to make following gastric sleeve surgery are significant. You’ll get a great deal of guidance on how to keep up with these changes from your doctor and dietitian.

Coping With Recovery

Given the physiological changes that follow gastric sleeve surgery, coping with physical discomfort and pain is a part of the recovery process. What should you keep in mind? Here’s a quick breakdown:

  • Prescription pain medications will be necessary for the first two weeks back from surgery. These are highly habit-forming and have many side-effects, so only take the indicated dosage.
  • Over-the-counter medications, such as Extra-Strength Tylenol or others can be taken after prescription pain killers are done.
  • Antacids such as Prilosec (omeprazole), Prevacid (lansoprazole), or others, may be prescribed to help with digestion.
  • Multivitamins will also be absolutely essential as you recover; of particular importance are vitamins B12 and D.
  • Calcium and iron supplements should also become part of the daily regimen.
  • Probiotics, which promote gut bacteria health and help with digestion, will also be recommended.

Emotional Coping

There can undoubtedly be a significant emotional toll and psychological fallout from rapid weight loss due to gastric sleeve. While most surgeries are successful, and a majority of post-surgical patients are happy with results, a significant portion experience depression, mood disorders, relapse of binge-eating disorders, and other issues.

In fact, one study found about 13% of post weight loss surgery patients experience increases in depression. Throughout the process, from initial consultation through follow-up, you’ll need to undergo a good deal of psychiatric evaluation and consultation.

What sort of treatments are considered for these issues? What other things can you do to manage post-surgical mental health? There are several approaches:

  • In-person therapy: Especially if patients were struggling with psychiatric disorders prior to surgery, regular, one-on-one counseling sessions may help with life afterward. Some therapists and counselors even specialize in weight-related psychiatric problems and would be particularly well-positioned to help. Among the issues they confront is the increased risk of drug or alcohol abuse following surgery.
  • Phone/text therapy: Some practices offer internet, telephone, or even text message consultations and services that can provide additional help. For some, this is an easier and less intimidating way to get counseling, and it’s much more accessible.
  • Group therapy: Group sessions under the direction of a mental health professional have also helped patients cope following gastric sleeve surgery; Studies have shown they help improve mental health and adherence to diet. Not only do you get support directly from a counselor, but, in sharing experiences and working with others, you’ll feel a greater sense of connection and accountability.  

Throughout the recovery process, your doctor may ask you to keep a food journal and be mindful of how you’re feeling both physically and emotionally.

Wound Care

Nowadays, gastric sleeve surgery is performed as a laparoscopic procedure; instead of opening up the abdomen to access the stomach, small incisions allowing in a retractable camera and surgical tools are used. As such, you’ll have about five small incisions in your abdomen, with the largest of these being only 12 millimeters (mm).

Even though this is less invasive than open surgery, you’ll certainly need to be careful as the incisions heal. You’ll get more guidance from your doctor, but here’s what you need to keep in mind when it comes to incision care:

  • Bandages will typically come off on their own, but they should be removed if they’re still on at three days.
  • Steri-strips, specialized tape that goes directly over the incisions, should be left on and can only be taken off by gently pulling after two weeks.
  • Surgical glue should also typically be allowed to flake off on its own, though if it’s still there at two weeks, it can be gently peeled off.
  • Bathing: As noted above, patients shouldn’t take baths for at least one month following surgery. When showering, clean and dry the incisions gently by patting them.

Throughout the recovery process, be mindful of how your incisions are healing. If you see redness, feel excess pain, or are developing a fever or other symptoms, call a doctor immediately.

A Word From Verywell

While weight loss surgeries like gastric sleeve surgery are highly-successful in promoting weight loss, there’s no denying that adjusting to the new lifestyle—and body—that follows is involved and intense.

The good news, however, is that this procedure is safe and well-tolerated, and the techniques and technologies used in surgery today are better than they’ve ever been.

Remember that, if you’re thinking about this procedure, you won’t be alone in your journey; not only will you have dedicated medical staff on your side, but you’ll have your family, loved ones, and friends to help as well. So long as you’re dedicated and engaged in your recovery, there’s no doubt you’ll achieve the outcomes you’ve hoped for. 

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Article Sources
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