Gastric Bypass Surgery Recovery
Your gastric bypass recovery begins as soon as the procedure is completed and lasts for the rest of your life. Bariatric surgery is not a quick fix. It is the first step on your weight loss journey. The more effort that you put into your recovery, the more satisfied you will be with the ultimate outcome.
You will likely spend a few days in the hospital after your gastric bypass, and it will be several weeks before you can resume your normal activities. There will be some pain and swelling in the days after your surgery. Prescription pain medications will help you feel more comfortable.
Walking around as soon as you are able will help reduce your risk of developing deep vein thrombosis (DVT) after gastric bypass surgery. DVT is a blood clot deep in the body, often in the leg. Such a clot can become dislodged and travel though the bloodstream to the lung, where it can block the flow of blood, an often-fatal condition known as pulmonary embolism. Ideally, you should begin walking within four to six hours of your surgery to prevent DVT.
Your surgeon will go over all of your postoperative instructions before you leave the hospital. Pay close attention and follow his or her advice carefully in order to minimize your gastric bypass risks and complications. It is also a good idea to have a loved one or caregiver with you during this important conversation.
Reintroducing Solid Food After Surgery: 12-Week Plan
An important part of your recovery is learning how to eat again. Although each surgeon or bariatric team has its own approach to the reintroduction of food, it usually takes several months to adjust to your new stomach. Don’t worry, you will be able to eat healthy portions and continue to enjoy food.
You will only be allowed to take sips of water or chew on ice chips immediately after your surgery. For the next few weeks, your diet will advance from clear liquids to semi-soft and pureed foods, depending on the instructions from your surgeon.
After gastric bypass, your stomach will be able to process a variable amount of food, depending on the consistency and type. Some days, you will be hungrier and will be able to eat more; other days, you may not have an appetite at all. This variability is completely normal.
Expect some trial and error during the early days. You will quickly learn what you can or can’t eat, and what happens if you overdo it. Overeating may cause abdominal cramps, nausea and vomiting. Eating foods high in carbohydrates may cause dumping syndrome, which is an unpleasant feeling of sweating, heart racing and weakness. This is essentially a low-blood-sugar state caused by eating the wrong things.
In addition to not eating too much food, you must also chew your food very thoroughly to allow it to pass through your new stomach pouch and your intestines. This new pouch will grow larger over time, and overeating can stretch it out. Follow your bariatric team’s dietary advice to prevent stretching your new pouch.
Weight loss occurs very quickly in the first nine to 12 months following surgery and often plateaus after 18 months. During the stage of your recovery when you begin to lose weight, it is important to drink a lot of water to help stave off dehydration.
After gastric bypass, you should take vitamin and mineral supplements, including calcium, iron and vitamin B-12. Your blood levels of these nutrients should be monitored as part of your regular follow-up care.
Emotional Ups and Downs After Surgery
You may experience emotional changes as you begin to lose weight, and even after you have lost the weight. People may treat you differently. You may have assumed that your whole life would change if you finally lost weight, only to be disappointed when you find that it hasn’t. A psychologist may screen you before surgery to see if you are at risk for any emotional issues along your journey. (Read more about the psychological effects of bariatric surgery.)
Food may have taken a central role in your pre-gastric bypass life. Food may have substituted for love and provided comfort and solace. Without it, you may feel a sense of loss. There is a small risk of addiction swapping after bariatric surgery. You may substitute food and eating with other unhealthy substances or behaviors, such as drugs, alcohol or obsessive gambling or sexual activity. Some people may develop disordered eating following bariatric surgery procedures such as gastric bypass.
Birth Control During Recovery
Women of childbearing age should practice birth control for the first 12 months after gastric bypass. Pregnancy is not recommended during this time because it will be difficult enough to learn how to eat for one — without the added concerns of pregnancy. Plus, the rapid weight loss that occurs after gastric bypass can also rob the developing fetus of essential nutrients. However, studies show that pregnancy is safer after gastric bypass for both the mother and baby.
Your recovery does not end even after the first crucial 18 months. New issues such as nutritional deficiencies and weight regain can pop up even years out. Keeping in close contact with your bariatric team, as well as others who have had the procedure, can help make sure any bumps in the road don’t become major detours.
Gastric bypass can produce tremendous health and quality-of-life benefits. Most people will be able to take fewer — if any — medications to treat obesity-related conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes after gastric bypass. Some research shows that this surgery cures diabetes — before the weight loss occurs — as well as migraine headaches. The list of benefits seems to keep growing.
About the Reviewer of This Article
Dr. Kelvin Higa, MD, FACS, FASMBS, has been performing open bariatric surgical procedures since the early 1990s. He performed the first laparoscopic gastric bypass in California’s Central Valley in 1998 and was part of the team that performed the very first laparoscopic adjustable gastric band in Fresno, California. He is the immediate past president for the American Society of Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery.
In addition to his position as clinical professor of surgery at the University of California, San Francisco Fresno Medical Education Program, Dr. Higa has been appointed to the National Faculty for Bariatric Surgery by the American College of Surgeons. Dr. Higa continues to chair many international conferences devoted to bariatric surgery.
A graduate of the UCLA medical school, Dr. Higa completed his residency training in 1988 and served as chief of vascular surgery at the Veteran’s Affairs Medical Center in Fresno, California. He entered private practice in 1990, but has continued to devote a large amount of time to teaching as the chief of surgery for Community Medical Centers as well as Saint Agnes Medical Center, also based in Fresno.