Life After Bariatric Surgery
What do I need to do to be successful after surgery?
The basic rules are simple and easy to follow:
- Immediately after surgery, your doctor will provide you with special dietary guidelines. You will need to follow these guidelines closely. You will follow a liquid diet for one to two weeks, a pureed diet for two to three weeks and then advance to solid foods. Allowing time for proper healing of your new stomach pouch is necessary and important.
- When able to eat solids, eat three meals per day—no more. Protein in the form of lean meats (chicken, turkey, fish) and other low-fat sources should be eaten first. These should comprise at least half the volume of the meal eaten. Foods should be cooked without fat and seasoned to taste. Avoid sauces, gravies, butter, margarine, mayonnaise and junk foods.
- Never eat between meals.
- Drink 64 ounces or more of water each day. Water must be consumed slowly, one to two mouthfuls at a time, due to the restrictive effect of the operation.
- Exercise aerobically every day as tolerated for at least 20 minutes (one-mile brisk walk, bike riding, stair climbing, etc.). Weight/resistance exercise can be added three to four days per week, as instructed by your doctor.
What's so important about exercise?
When you have a weight loss surgery procedure, you lose weight because the amount of food energy (calories) you are able to eat is much less than your body needs to operate. It has to make up the difference by burning reserves or unused tissues. Your body will tend to burn any unused muscle before it begins to burn the fat it has saved up. If you do not exercise daily, your body will consume your unused muscle, and you will lose muscle mass and strength. Daily aerobic exercise for 20 minutes will communicate to your body that you want to use your muscles and force it to burn the fat instead.
What is the right amount of exercise after weight loss surgery?
Many patients are hesitant about exercising after surgery, but exercise is an essential component of success after surgery. Exercise actually begins on the afternoon of surgery—the patient must be out of bed and walking. The goal is to walk further on the next day, and progressively further every day after that, including the first few weeks at home. Patients are often released from medical restrictions and encouraged to begin exercising about two weeks after surgery, limited only by the level of wound discomfort. The type of exercise is dictated by the patient's overall condition. Some patients who have severe knee problems can't walk well, but may be able to swim or bicycle. Many patients begin with low stress forms of exercise and are encouraged to progress to more vigorous activity when they are able.
Can I get pregnant after weight loss surgery?
It is strongly recommended that women wait at least 18 months after the surgery before a pregnancy. Approximately one year to 18 months post-operatively, your body will be fairly stable (from a weight and nutrition standpoint) and you should be able to carry a normally nourished fetus. You should consult your surgeon as you plan for pregnancy.
What if I have had a previous weight loss surgical procedure and I'm now having problems?
Community bariatric surgeons are experienced in revision procedures. You may schedule a consultation to discuss your personal medical history.
What happens to the lower part of the stomach that is bypassed?
The stomach is left in place with intact blood supply. In some cases it may shrink a bit and its lining (the mucosa) may atrophy, but for the most part it remains unchanged. The lower stomach still contributes to the function of the intestines even though it does not receive or process food—it makes intrinsic factor, which is necessary to absorb vitamin B12, and contributes to hormone balance and motility of the intestines in ways that are not entirely known.
How big will my stomach pouch really be in the long run?
This can vary by surgical procedure and surgeon. In the Roux-en-Y gastric bypass, the stomach pouch is created at one ounce or less in size (15-20cc). In the first few months it is rather stiff due to natural surgical inflammation. About 6-12 months after surgery, the stomach pouch can expand and will become more expandable as swelling subsides. Many patients end up with a meal capacity of six to eight ounces.
What will the staples do inside my abdomen? Is it okay in the future to have an MRI test? Will I set off metal detectors in airports?
The staples used on the stomach and the intestines are very tiny in comparison to the staples you will have in your skin or staples you use in the office. Each staple is a tiny piece of stainless steel or titanium so small it is hard to see other than as a tiny bright spot. Because the metals used (titanium or stainless steel) are inert in the body, most people are not allergic to staples and they usually do not cause any problems in the long run. The staple materials are also non-magnetic, which means that they will not be affected by MRI. The staples will not set off airport metal detectors.
What if I'm not hungry after surgery?
It's normal not to have an appetite for the first few months after weight loss surgery. If you are able to consume liquids reasonably well, there is a good chance that your appetite will increase with time.
Is there any difficulty in taking medications?
Most pills or capsules are small enough to pass through the new stomach pouch. Initially, your doctor may suggest that medications be taken in liquid form or crushed.
Will I be able to take oral contraception after surgery?
Most patients have no difficulty swallowing these pills.
Is sexual activity restricted?
Patients can return to normal sexual intimacy when wound healing and discomfort permit. Many patients experience a drop in desire for about six weeks.
Is there a difference in the outcome of surgery between men and women?
Both men and women generally respond well to this surgery. In general, men lose weight slightly faster than women do.
Will I be asked to stop smoking?
Patients are encouraged to stop smoking at least one month before surgery.
If I continue to smoke, what happens?
Smoking increases the risk of lung problems after surgery, can reduce the rate of healing, increases the rates of infection and interferes with blood supply to the healing tissues.
How can I know that I won't just keep losing weight until I waste away to nothing?
Patients may begin to wonder about this early after the surgery when they are losing 20 to 40 pounds per month, or maybe when they have lost more than 100 pounds and they're still losing weight. Two things happen to allow weight to stabilize. First, a patient's ongoing metabolic needs (calories burned) decrease as the body sheds excess pounds. Second, there is a natural progressive increase in calorie and nutrient intake over the months following weight loss surgery. The stomach pouch and attached small intestine learn to work together better, and there is some expansion in pouch size over a period of months. The bottom line is that, in the absence of a surgical complication, patients are very unlikely to lose weight to the point of malnutrition.
What can I do to prevent lots of excess hanging skin?
Many people heavy enough to meet the surgical criteria for weight loss surgery have stretched their skin beyond the point from which it can "snap back." Some patients will choose to have plastic surgery to remove loose or excess skin after they have lost their excess weight. Insurance generally does not pay for this type of surgery (often seen as elective surgery). However, some do pay for certain types of surgery to remove excess skin when complications arise from these excess skin folds. Ask your surgeon about your need for a skin removal procedure.
Will exercise help with excess hanging skin?
Exercise is good in so many other ways that a regular exercise program is recommended.
Will I be miserably hungry after weight loss surgery since I'm not eating much?
Most patients say no. In fact, for the first few months patients have almost no appetite. Over the next several months the appetite returns, but it tends not to be a ravenous "eat everything in the cupboard" type of hunger.
What if I am really hungry?
This is usually caused by the types of food you may be consuming. The program dietitian will provide you with menu suggestions, but as your diet is advanced, we recommend solid, heavy foods.
Will I have to change my medications?
Your doctor will determine whether medications for blood pressure, diabetes, etc., can be stopped when the conditions for which they are taken improve or resolve after weight loss surgery. For meds that need to be continued, the vast majority can be swallowed or absorbed and work the same as before weight loss surgery. Usually, no change in dose is required. Two classes of medications that should be used only in consultation with your surgeon are diuretics (fluid pills) and NSAIDs (most over-the-counter pain medicines). NSAIDs (ibuprofen, naproxen, etc.) may create ulcers in the small pouch or the attached bowel. Most diuretic medicines make the kidneys lose potassium. With the dramatically reduced intake experienced by most weight loss surgery patients, they are not able to take in enough potassium from food to compensate. When potassium levels get too low, this can lead to fatal heart problems.
What is a hernia and what is the probability of an abdominal hernia after surgery?
A hernia is a weakness in the muscle wall through which an organ (usually small bowel) can advance. Approximately 20 percent of patients develop a hernia. Most of these patients require a repair of the herniated tissue. The use of a reinforcing mesh to support the repair is common.
Will I lose hair after surgery? How can I prevent it?
Many patients experience some hair loss or thinning after surgery. This usually occurs between the third and the sixth month after surgery. Consistent intake of protein at mealtime is the most important prevention method. Also recommended are multivitamins and a good daily volume of fluid intake.
Does hair growth recover?
Most patients experience natural hair regrowth after the initial period of loss.