From the initial consultation to the last follow-up appointment, the weight loss surgery process entails much more than a surgical procedure itself. While most patients will focus on the surgery, it’s best not to overlook what occurs after the surgery is complete. The weight loss surgery procedure is just the start of your journey.
It’s imperative to understand the steps that follow surgery and how you can best navigate these changes. Follow-up care, physical changes, short-term side effects, and excess skin are just some of the aspects to be aware of post-surgery.
Don’t find yourself thinking, “Now what?” Learn what to expect after weight loss surgery so you can be successful in reaching your health goals.
To avoid complications and rebounding weight gain, be sure to carefully follow your doctor’s advice. Here are a few things you can expect and steps you can take to be successful:
After you return home from weight loss surgery, you will have several follow-up checks with your doctor. Keep these appointments to ensure you remain in good health and have no complications. Your doctor will provide you with specific dietary requirements. Follow these carefully, because they are designed to allow your digestive system to heal.
Staying hydrated with low-calorie fluids, but not just water, is essential. You will need between 48 and 64 ounces of fluids every day, and you will need to drink slowly throughout the day because of the size of the new stomach and digestive system. Your doctor will warn you against drinking with or immediately after meals, which can lead to malabsorption.
As your incisions heal, keep them clean and covered. You can wash gently with soap and water, but do not scrub the incisions. If you notice any bright redness, excessive leaking, or a change in the color of the incision, talk to your doctor. After the incisions have healed, you will need to cover the scars with sunscreen if they will be exposed to the sun.
Immediately after surgery, you may notice some side effects. These will likely change with time, but you may temporarily experience:
- Nausea or vomiting: This should go away after the first few months if you follow the eating plan.
- Diarrhea or loose stools – This may be related to diet.
- Gas – Also likely related to diet.
- Body aches – Talk to your doctor about the right pain relievers if you have body aches. NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) may not be recommended after weight loss surgery.
- Weakness or fatigue – This is normal as your body heals from major surgery.
- Constipation – Increase fluids and fiber intake if you are getting constipated.
- Feeling cold – As your metabolism changes and you lose weight, you may feel cold more easily.
- Thrush – Yeast infections can occur after surgery because of the antibiotics you must take to prevent infection. Thrush is easily cured with medicine so be sure to talk to your doctor.
- Gurgling noises – Avoid carbonated beverages or swallowing air by chewing gum.
- Skin changes – You may notice problems with acne or dry skin after surgery, but this should clear up with time and the proper diet.
These side effects may last between two and six weeks, but you will eventually start feeling back to normal again. Side effects are common with many surgeries, and many patients agree that temporary side effects are well worth the long-lasting benefits of weight loss surgery. Talk with your doctor if your side effects last longer than expected.
As you start to lose weight, you may notice that your skin seems loose. This is a natural occurrence with dramatic weight loss. Excess skin can cause problems not only with clothing, but also with hygiene.
One solution is to have an additional surgery to remove the skin. Excess skin can be removed from nearly any area of the body by a plastic surgeon. Care and consideration are given to the position of scars, but most skin removal surgeries will results in some kind of scarring. Removing excess skin after dramatic weight loss may require multiple additional surgeries.
The goal of weight loss surgery is to lose weight, so many patients are surprised to see some of that weight returning after their surgeries.
The average amount of weight lost is 70 percent of the excess weight. Some patients have seen results of over 80 percent of excess weight lost. However, as many as 80 percent of patients eventually gain a little weight back. On average, patients who gain weight back see 8 percent of their old weight return within 5 years of surgery. Fortunately, most patients keep off at least 50 percent of their excess weight even after 10 years.
Several factors can predict the likelihood of gaining weight after surgery, including:
- Pre-surgery weight
- Alcohol or drug use
- Psychological state
- Lack of support system
Patients who can lose a little weight before surgery will have less chance of regaining it. Additionally, patients need to have a strong social support system, receive mental health support, and also remain free from drug or alcohol abuse problems, in order for the surgery to be as effective as possible.
To avoid gaining weight, continue your nutritional counseling long after surgery and stick with your new eating routine. Consider joining a weight loss support group or weight loss surgery support group in your area or online.
By taking pro-active steps to reduce the likelihood of rebounding weight gain, you can stick with your new healthier lifestyle and get the best results from your weight loss surgery.
Some patients will experience complications after weight loss surgery. Some common complications include:
- Dumping syndrome – Occurs when patients feel sick and dizzy immediately after eating, vomiting what they have eaten.
- Dehydration – Patients need to drink as much as 2 liters of water per day, and not doing so can cause dehydration.
- Dental problems – Malabsorption can occur if you do not take your vitamins, and this can lead to poor dental health.
- Hair loss – Also caused by nutritional deficiencies, most patients will see their hair re-grow once their body adjusts and they start taking vitamins and supplements.
- Dysphagia – Problems with swallowing can occur after surgery and can be remedied by eating more slowly.
- Gallstones – Small stones of cholesterol in the gallbladder may need to be surgically removed.
The good news is that many of these complications are avoidable by developing good habits and strictly adhering to your doctor’s instructions.
Remember, weight loss surgery is a major surgery and side effects and risks are to be expected. Understanding these factors before you head into surgery will help you make the right decisions for your health. By preparing for weight loss surgery recovery and taking pro-active steps for your health, you can ensure you’re on the right track to success.
Don’t forget, you are not alone. There is a lot of support available for weight loss surgery patients on every step of the journey. By working with compassionate healthcare professionals and connecting with supportive friends, family members, and fellow patients, you can lose weight and keep it off once and for all with weight loss surgery.