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What to Expect After Weight Loss Surgery

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Updated February 15, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

What to Expect After Weight Loss Surgery

Know what to expect after surgery.

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The best time to find out what to expect after weight loss surgery is actually before you go under the knife. That way, by the time you are in the post-operation phase, you are prepared for your life after surgery.

As part of your preparation process, consider possible changes to your lifestyle, your body, your relationships and your health. Understanding all of the possible implications will help you decide if weight loss surgery is right for you.

How much weight will I lose?

Patients who undergo weight loss surgery can lose a significant percentage of their excess body weight. But the success of the procedure will depend on how well you are able to maintain a healthy post-surgery diet and exercise regime.

Recent reports suggest that patients may lose up to 60% of their excess body weight (not total body weight) in the first six months after surgery. Twelve months after surgery, that number jumps to 77%. At the five-year mark, patients maintain an average of 50% of their excess weight loss.

How quickly will I lose weight?

This will depend on the type of weight loss surgery you've had and how well you are able to follow the eating and exercise guidelines provided by your physician. Patients who undergo sleeve gastrectomy or gastric bypass generally lose weight faster than patients who undergo lap band surgery.

For example, one study reported that patients who underwent sleeve gastrectomy lost almost 50 pounds in the first year, whereas patients who chose lap band surgery lost approximately 30 pounds after one year. Another report, however, found that at the three-year point, weight loss for both groups was about the same.

Will I be healthier after surgery?

In many cases, bariatric surgery resolves or improves weight-related medical conditions. Gastric bypass resolves type 2 diabetes in nearly 90% of patients, and gastric banding resolves that same condition in over 70% of patients. Sleep apnea is resolved in more than 85% of patients and almost half of the patients who undergo weight loss surgery see an improvement in their risk level for heart disease.

Will my quality of life improve?

The answer to this question may depend on your expectations prior to surgery. Many patients experience an improved quality of life if they lose the amount of weight that they had hoped to lose. Other factors include whether or not they experience complications from surgery, and whether or not the surgery resolves medical issues that were related to their weight.

Talking about expectations should be an important part of your pre-surgery process. Dr. Ninh T. Nguyen, MD, President-elect of the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery (ASMBS), says that relationships with friends and family often change after surgery. In his interview with About.com, he says that the lifestyle adjustment and psychological changes can be the hardest part of recovery.

Will I experience side effects?

It isn't uncommon for patients who undergo surgery to experience some side effects in the weeks, months or even years following the procedure. These might include:

Some studies have also found that people who undergo surgery may be at greater risk for alcohol abuse following surgery.

Each surgery has its own list of risks and benefits. Talk to your surgeon about the specific procedure you've chosen to get a more complete list of possible side effects that you may experience.

Will I need plastic surgery to get rid of excess skin?

Patients are often concerned about what will happen to their bodies when they lose weight quickly. How your body adapts to weight loss depends on the amount of weight you have to lose in the first place and on other factors, including your age. Dr. Nguyen suggests that exercise is the best way to prevent or limit excess skin.

Your bariatric surgeon will be able to give you a better idea of how your procedure will affect the shape of your body and the potential for excess skin. If plastic surgery becomes necessary, he will be able to recommend a surgeon and talk to you about risks and benefits of undergoing additional surgeries.

Making the decision to undergo bariatric surgery is a complicated process. Understanding what to expect after surgery will help you to decide whether or not the procedure is right for you. Don't be afraid to ask questions and get as much information as possible.

Sources:

Joshua B. Alley, M.D., F.A.C.S., Stephen J. Fenton, M.D., F.A.C.S., Michael C. Harnisch, M.D, Donovan N. Tapper, M.D, Jason M. Pfluke, M.D., Richard M. Peterson, M.D., M.P.H., F.A.C.S. "Quality of life after sleeve gastrectomy and adjustable gastric banding."Surgery for Obesity and Related Diseases March 5, 2011.

Access to Care. Morbid Obesity & Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery Fact Sheet. American Society for Metabolic & Bariatric Surgery. Accessed: July 12, 2012. http://asmbs.org/

American Society for Metabolic & Bariatric Surgery. Accessed: July 12, 2012. http://asmbs.org/

Managing the Severely Obese Patient: An Integrated Approach. Allergan Lap Band System. Continued Medical Education Course. July, 2011

Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery Fact Sheet American Society for Metabolic & Bariatric Surgery. Accessed: July 12, 2012. http://asmbs.org/

Nguyen, Ninh T., MD, President-elect, American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery. Interview. July 16, 2012

Weight Control Information Network. Bariatric Surgery for Severe Obesity. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Accessed: July 12, 2012. http://win.niddk.nih.gov/publications/gastric.htm

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