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Gastric Bypass Complications- Possible Complications of Gastric Bypass to be Aware of Before Going Under the Knife

Updated on February 12, 2010

Gastric bypass complications is indeed a risk that anyone needs to consider when planning on undertaking gastric bypass surgery.  Even though death after gastric bypass surgery is rare (less than 2%), there are a number of complications that can pose a serious risk to your health if not treated properly.  If you arm your with the knowledge of potential problems, you will have the ability to discuss any questions and concerns you may have with your doctor.  Below are some of the most common gastric bypass complications and side effects.

Gastric Bypass Procedure

Gastric bypass surgery, or bariatric surgery, is a procedure that makes the stomach smaller, limiting the amount of food intake.  Generally designed for those who have been unsuccessful at losing weight by diet and exercise, the surgery allows food to bypass a section of the small intestine which gives the feeling of fullness more quickly.  You would intake fewer calories, leading to weight loss.

The most common gastric bypass surgery is known as the Roux-en-Y, which can be performed by laparoscopic and traditional methods.  The other gastric bypass procedure available is the biliopancreatic diversion bypass, in which part of the stomach is removed, and the small intestine is changed to redirect pancreatic juices and bile to meet the food ingested.  Alternatively, Lap-Band surgery is another weight loss procedure that doesn't involve bypassing and digestive organs.

The surgery is typically performed under general anesthesia and takes approximately one to four hours.  You can expect to remain in the hospital 1-7 days after surgery.  Complications of gastric bypass surgery can occur during the procedure, or while in recovery.

photo source: Brad Granger Gastric Bypass
photo source: Brad Granger Gastric Bypass

Possibilty of Gastric Bypass Complications

There are a range of gastric bypass complications that can occur, ranging to minor side-effects to permanently life altering complications. You should consider all of the following before making a final decision.

Excessive Bleeding

One of the most serious complications of gastric bypass surgery that can lead to death is excessive bleeding. This can happen if your blood doesn't clot well, or if a surgeon makes a serious error. Inflammation of the peritoneum, a membrane lining the abdomen, can also cause serious damage.

Anastomotic Problems

An anastomosis is a surgical connection between organs. In the case of gastric bypass surgery, it is the connection between two parts of the bowel, or the stomach and bowel. There are a few ways that the anstomosis may create problems for the patient:


The surgeon connects the two organs with either staples or sutures, making a water-tight connection. While undergoing the natural healing process, the body should create a seal in between the organs. However, if the seal fails to form, fluid in the gastrointestinal tract can leak into the abdominal cavity. This leads to infection and possibly forming an abscess. Symptoms of leakage include abdominal pain, shortness of breath, anxiety, heart palpitations, and severe chest pain.

An anastomic leak can occur in roughly 2% of gastric bypass procedures and can be deadly if not recognized and treated immediately. A leak is treated by antibiotics and immediate operation.


An anastomotic stricture is one of the most common complications of gastric bypass. A stricture is scar tissue that shrinks, making the opening of the anastomosis smaller. Usually, food passage will be enough to keep it open, but if inflammation and healing is too rapid, the scarring may make the opening too small. The stricture will make the opening so small that liquids are unable to pass through.

An anastomotic stricture is corrected by inflating a balloon inside the connection, stretching the opening. Depending on the severity of the stricture, the procedure may have to be performed more than once.


Anastomotic ulcers can be caused by multiple factors. Among those are:

  • Restriction of blood supply to the anastomosis
  • Gastric Acid
  • Tension of anastomosis
  • Smoking
  • Helicobacter Pylori (ulcer-causing bacteria)
  • Use of Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (prescription and over the counter pain medications)

Ulcers are treated by prescription such as Nexium and Sucralfate, and by restricting solid foods for a period of time.

Dumping Syndrome

Dumping syndrome is a disorder in which the contents in the stomach are delivered to the small intestine too rapidly. The dumping reaction occurs when the patient eats sugary food that then passes rapidly into the bowel. Dumping usually lasts between 30 to 60 minutes and is very uncomfortable. Symptoms include nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness, faintness, increased and rapid heart rate, breaking into cold sweats, and hypotension.

Nutritional Deficiencies

Another gastric bypass complication is nutritional deficiency. Common problems include:

  • Inadequate absorption of calcium.
  • Iron deficiency
  • Thiamine deficiency
  • Vitamin A deficiency
  • Thiamine deficiency
  • Vitamin B12 deficiency
  • Protein malnutrition

These deficiencies are usually treated by supplementation.

Other Complications

Other complications include:

  • Blood Clots
  • Gallstones (your doctor should check for gallstones before surgery)
  • Hernias
  • Bowel Obstruction

Gastric Bypass Surgery Side-Effects

In addition to gastric bypass complications after surgery, you may experience side-effects as your body adjusts to the changes and reacts to rapid weight loss.  Some of the most common gastric bypass surgery side effects experienced in the first 3-6 months include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Body aches
  • Intolerance to food
  • Exhaustion
  • Mood changes
  • Changed/irregular bowel habits
  • Feeling cold/intolerance to cold
  • Dry Skin
  • Hair thinning or hair loss
  • Dehydration
  • Increased and/or excessive flatulence

What You Can Do to Avoid Some Complications of Gastric Bypass

Although most complications are out of your control, there are a few precautions you can take to aid in a successful recovery.  If you know that you have bleeding problems, notify your doctor before the surgery.  Avoid heavy lifting.  Take any and all vitamin supplements recommended by your doctor.  If you experience abdominal pain, dehydration, or fever, notify your doctor.

Reduce the potential for dumping syndrome by avoiding sweets and sugary foods.

Video About Gastric Bypass Complications


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