Risks of Bariatric Surgery: Is It Worth It?

Physical and Emotional Changes to Prepare For

Bariatric surgery is a life-altering experience. No matter which weight loss surgery you choose, the procedure is expensive and will require that you make big changes to your lifestyle.

As with any surgery, there are benefits and shortcomings to consider. In some cases, the impact on your life may make you wonder if it is truly worth the cost and risks. To make the best decision, speak honestly and openly with your surgeon about the pros and cons of bariatric surgery. 

A gastric bypass surgery with surgeons

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Risks and Side Effects

Like other surgeries, there are risks involved with bariatric surgery. That said, it's considered a safe surgery. The mortality (death) rate of bariatric surgery is low and is either lower or similar to the rates of other elective surgeries.

Still, you should be aware of the potential short-term and long-term risks and side effects that you may experience after your surgery. The risks vary depending on the specific weight loss procedure you undergo.

Short-Term Risks

Possible short-term risks that may happen during weight loss surgery recovery are:

  • Anastomotic leakage (leak from the surgical connection)
  • Bowel obstruction (blockage of the intestines)
  • Bleeding
  • Blood clots
  • Diarrhea or blood in the stool
  • Feeling faint or dizzy
  • Fever
  • Infection
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Stomach pain and cramping
  • Stenosis (narrowing of the stomach outlet)
  • Surgical complications
  • Death (rare)

Long-Term Risks and Complications

Chronic (long-term) problems you may experience in the years following bariatric surgery include:

Side Effects

Side effects you may encounter after bariatric surgery include:

7 Things to Prepare Yourself For

Life after bariatric surgery isn't always what people expect. In addition to changes in your appetite, you may experience unexpected alterations in your:

  • Eating habits
  • Lifestyle
  • Social life
  • Relationships
  • Emotions
  • Mental health
  • Finances

The changes often surprise people who hoped that the surgery might offer an easy way to lose weight.

Many people enjoy an improved quality of life after bariatric surgery. However, the procedure is not for everyone. Here are seven things you should consider to prepare yourself.

Change Eating and Lifestyle Routines

Weight loss surgery isn't an alternative to diet and exercise—it's an addition to diet and exercise. In fact, good eating habits and regular exercise become even more important after bariatric surgery.

To optimize the results of your surgery, you'll need to spend each day practicing healthy behavior. You have to journal your food intake and measure the quantities and types of food you eat to ensure the appropriate dietary and nutritional intake. For some, the commitment is more than they anticipated.

New Social Habits

As you begin to build a new relationship with food, you may not be able to partake in social situations that revolve around food. Instead, you will learn to schedule social outings around physical activity, which some of your friends may not appreciate.

Loss of Relationships

Your changing social habits may frustrate the friends you had before surgery. It may even alienate thsoe you were once close with.

You'll need to work with your family and friends to accept the new behaviors, and that may be a challenge because most people prefer to keep their life the way it was. That includes any bad habits that may have caused weight gain in the first place.

People who undergo bariatric surgery will often build entirely new social circles with friends who practice healthier behaviors to stay on track. This change can sometimes result in the loss of old friendships, which can be painful.

Emotional Disappointment

If you expect weight loss surgery to solve social or emotional problems and make life better, you may be disappointed.

Some people who gain weight use food for emotional comfort. This isn't a problem that surgery can solve. If emotional issues are present before surgery, they are likely to be present after surgery.

Excess Skin

Your weight loss may provide positive results on the scale, but you still may not like what you see in the mirror. Excess skin is a problem for bariatric patients who lose weight. For some, the sight of loose skin is just as bad (or even worse) than excessive weight.

Solutions for reducing excess skin include exercise and various body lift surgeries like:

Multiple body lift surgeries are sometimes needed. And the cost of surgery can often be exorbitant, with a lower-body lift costing anywhere from $7,000 to $25,000.

Alcohol Use Disorder

Some patients who undergo surgery, particularly gastric bypass and sleeve gastrectomy, experience alcohol use disorders in the years after surgery. There is speculation that the procedures alter how the body processes alcohol.

Because of this, some patients may be at higher risk for alcohol use disorder. The following factors are associated with increased risk:

  • Male sex
  • Younger age
  • Tobacco use
  • Drinking patterns before bariatric surgery

Weight Regain

While the success rates for weight loss surgery continue to improve, some weight regain in the years after bariatric surgery is very common. According to the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery, most weight loss occurs in the first two years following surgery.

While weight regain is common after five years, most can keep 50% of the excess weight off.

Weighing the Pro and Cons

All surgeries have risks and benefits to consider. For some patients, having a bariatric procedure, like gastric bypass, is worth it.

For a committed patient, weight loss surgery is an effective tool for losing weight. Patients may be able to lose 60% to 77% of their excess weight in the first year after surgery.

It has also shown to be effective at reducing the impact of many obesity-related conditions, such as:

But it's also important to do your homework before surgery and have reasonable expectations about what your life will be like after the surgery. It often helps to speak with someone who has had a bariatric procedure to gain unbiased insights. Many surgeons will also give their patients three months or more to prepare for the physical and psychological changes ahead.

It's also essential to know the price of bariatric surgery. Bariatric surgery can cost between $15,000 and $25,000. Sometimes, it can cost even more.

The total cost depends on the specific type of weight loss surgery you undergo. The costs add up even more if you have any surgical complications or need additional surgeries after your initial surgery.

If you are considering weight loss surgery, learn as much as you can about the procedure itself and the changes you'll have to make to your life. Talk to friends and family, your primary care provider, and a board-certified surgeon before making a final decision.

Frequently Asked Questions

16 Sources
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By Malia Frey, MA, CHC, CPT
Malia Frey is a weight loss expert, certified health coach, weight management specialist, personal trainer​, and fitness nutrition specialist.