Bariatric Surgery Recovery - All You Need to Know
A successful, complication-free bariatric surgery recovery requires close adherence to your surgeon’s advice, a strict dietary regimen and proper incision care.
Regardless, you’re still going to face some challenges just like you would after any major surgery.
Here’s what to expect…
The first month and a half of your bariatric surgery recovery will include some big changes. The best thing you can do is exactly what your surgeon tells you.
The key to success is following your surgeon’s instructions to the letter.
This is the most important advice we can give you, so it’s worth saying again…
To keep you on track, your surgeon will want to see you periodically after surgery. While each surgeon’s follow-up visit requirements are different, you will typically schedule your first check-up a week or two after surgery followed by less and less frequent visits as time goes on (may be more frequent with gastric banding due to the need for band adjustments).
Regular weight loss surgery support group participation has been found to:
- Reduce post-op recovery time
- Lead to as much as 12% more weight loss
Expert and peer feedback during support group meetings help with countless post-surgery challenges including…
- Fear before surgery
- Questions about the future
- Temptations and how to overcome them
- Impatience or frustration regarding how quickly the weight is coming off
- Learning how to interact with the world in your new body
- Overcoming depression relating to your new diet and changes to existing relationships (both in and out of the home)
- Diet and recipe tips
- Relationship advice for at-home and work relationships
Note: Each type of weight loss surgery has different general dietary requirements. See the following links for the nuances specific to each procedure:
In order to let your stomach heal, you won’t be able to eat for the first few days following bariatric surgery. Your doctor will start you on a liquid diet and have you slowly transition back to solid foods. Your calorie consumption will be about 1/4 of what it used to be, and your diet will be completely different (click here to learn more about your post-surgery diet).
Not just water!
It’s important that you remain hydrated after weight loss surgery… you must drink FLUIDS (preferably, low calorie ones such as unsweetened, caffeine-free herbal tea) but not just water.
If you only drink water, you may develop electrolyte abnormalities such as water intoxication syndrome.
Talk with your team for recommendations specific to you, but usually no more than half of your fluids should be water.
It is also important that you drink a lot of fluids… between 48 and 64 ounces per day. That’s equal to about 8 cups or 1/2 a gallon. You may find this tough to keep up with considering the size of your new stomach.
Try to always have a low-calorie drink next to you and sip alittle every 15 to 20 minutes. To make sure you’re getting enough,designatea special container, measure out your daily amount of fluids every morning and put it in the fridge. Spread your consumption throughout the day so that the container is empty before you go to bed.
Do not drink any liquids during your meals or within an hour afterwards. This can flush your meals through your new stomach which can cause you to eat more and contribute to malabsorption.
Your incisions will be healing (assuming you had any procedure other than the non-invasive gastric balloon), so you’ll need to be mindful about keeping them clean and covered. A simple process of gently washing your incisions with soap and water (no scrubbing) then drying them gently but thoroughly is recommended. Swelling, bruising and leaking a little bloody fluid is normal, but if your incisions turn bright red, start to leak excessively or if the fluid changes color or thickness you should call your surgeon right away.
After the wounds have completely closed (usually takes about 2 weeks), you can start applying special lotions to minimize the scarring. Mederma’s scar care products have been found to be some of the best towards improving the appearance of scars and making them less noticeable.
Also remember to use sunscreen on your scars when they are exposed to the sun.
It’s important that you not rush back into your normal daily routine immediately after surgery, but you should get up and move around as much as possible. Don’t lift anything heavy for at least a couple of weeks. Having sex is okay as soon as you feel up to it, but be extra careful with your healing incisions.
More strenuous exercises such as lifting weights, jogging, riding a bicycle and swimming should not begin until you are completely healed on both the inside and outside of your body. If you’re not sure whether or not you’re ready for a specific activity, talk with your surgeon to be sure.
At first, you may experience discomfort in a number of areas which may sound unpleasant, but these side effects will usually pass with time or changed behavior…
- Nausea or vomiting is especially common within the first few months following weight loss surgery. After your stomach is fully healed, you’ll quickly learn what your stomach can and can’t handle. How you eat is as important as what you eat when it comes to preventing nausea and vomiting… avoid eating and drinking too quickly or too much, take small bites and chew your food thoroughly. (See our Bariatric Eating page to learn about proper eating techniques that will avoid problems.)
- Body aches – should pass with time. If they become too uncomfortable, talk with your doctor about which pain relievers are safe. You should typically avoid NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such as ibuprofen or Aleve.
- Weak or tired feeling – should also pass with time, especially once your new bariatric diet is in place and, as soon as you are feeling up to it, begin your exercise program (bariatric diet discussed here).
- Feeling cold – this is caused by metabolism and weight loss and the fact that you have less fat insulating your body.
- Constipation – drinking more fluids, eating fibrous foods or taking fiber supplements and moving around regularly should help.
- Diarrhea or loose stools – usually diet related and requires the avoidance of “trigger” foods that disagree with your stomach.
- Gas – also diet related.
- Dumping syndrome, especially after gastric bypass, is caused by rapid emptying of your stomach after a meal. Symptoms include weakness, dizziness, flushing and warmth, nausea and palpitation immediately or shortly after eating. If you don’t adopt the right habits, this problem can continue over the long-term. See our Dumping Syndrome page for more details.
- Gurgling noises – not necessarily uncomfortable, but it’s worth noting. Gurgling noises are completely normal and are due to the different way your new digestive system pushes air through. The best way to prevent gurgling noises is to avoid swallowing air (i.e. avoid carbonated beverages, sipping through a straw, eating or drinking too quickly and chewing gum).
- Thrush (yeast infection) – this can be a side effect of the antibiotics you are on to prevent infection. Symptoms include changes to your tongue such as a white coating, redness or inflammation. Thrush is easily cured with medicine, so let your doctor know if it starts to develop.
Your emotional state may also be a little shaky immediately following surgery. It’s common for patients to feel scared, uncertain or moody due to hormonal changes and to the emotional effects of adjusting to a new life after weight loss surgery. The Support Group section found here will address the best way to overcome any difficult emotional issues.
Other things you may experience include…
- Skin changes such as acne or dry skin occur with some patients. The right bariatric diet and bariatric vitamins are your best defense. There are also many over the counter creams and lotions that can help. Worst case, partner with your dermatologist to find a treatment that works.
- Hair loss – this can be an alarming side effect of rapid weight loss, but it is only temporary. It happens in about half of all patients in the year following surgery. Proper nutrition is the best defense, including protein and the right bariatric vitamins. Several other treatments can also help, including the application of special shampoos and oils (Nioxin shampoo, flax seed oil, biotin tablets or powder).
It typically takes patients anywhere from two to six weeks to start feeling balanced and back to normal again.
After getting through the bariatric surgery recovery phase, following are the ways that your life after weight loss surgery will be permanently changed.
See our Life After Weight Loss Surgery section to learn what to expect in the months and years ahead.
Help & Support*
Your Bariatric Surgery Recovery*
What was your bariatric surgery recovery like? Your experiences will greatly help other patients mentally and physically prepare for surgery and avoid pitfalls.
You can also review submissions from other visitors below the form.
When sharing your experience, please include any recovery-related thoughts or advice, such as…
– How difficult/painful was it?
– How long did it take until you were completely recovered?
– Did you have any problems during recovery? What were they & how did you overcome them?
– What specifically did you eat and drink during each of your recovery weeks?
– Were your incisions painful? How quickly/well did they heal & how did you care for them?
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[ Last editorial review/modification of this page : 12/10/2016]