Everything you need to know about side effects of bariatric surgery

Nutrition and Weight Management
Woman looking at body in the mirror

If you are considering bariatric care, you're probably curious about whether or not to expect any complications after weight loss surgery. While severe risks and complications are very rare, some patients may experience a range of mild or moderate side effects.

We talked to Vicki McKenna, a nurse practitioner at the bariatric center at Main Line Health, to understand common side effects of bariatric surgery and how Main Line Health helps patients overcome them.

Here are some common side effects of bariatric surgery:

Changes to your nutrient levels

Due to the nature of bariatric surgery, which is designed to help patients eat less and absorb less food, vitamin deficiencies are one of the most common post-surgical side effects patients will experience. In order to avoid deficiencies, McKenna notes that all bariatric patients receive guidance on taking vitamins. In addition, Main Line Health routinely requires patients to get blood work to determine if they are deficient in any vitamins and which supplements can help.

Thinning hair

Thinning hair is another side effect of bariatric surgery some patients will notice. According to McKenna, this typically takes place in the first year after surgery when a patient loses the most weight. To prevent this, patients are encouraged to take specific supplements and ensure they get the recommended amounts of protein. Fortunately, once they reach a steady weight, most patients will find that their hair returns to its normal, pre-operative state.

Changes to your appearance

Because skin is quite elastic, some patients find that their skin seems looser or stretched out after surgery. "Think of [skin] like a rubber band," says McKenna. "If it is stretched for a prolonged period of time, it may not go back to its original shape."

Patients can help keep their skin taut by keeping up with an exercise routine before and after surgery. Strength training is a key ingredient here, as it helps the body stay toned as it transforms.

If exercise isn't doing the trick and the appearance of your skin bothers you, plastic surgery can help remove any excess or loose skin. Many patients will opt for a panniculectomy, full-body lift, a tummy tuck, or a breast lift to remove excess skin or fat. Chin lifts, arm lifts, and thigh lifts are also common plastic surgery procedures patients receive after extreme weight loss. If excess skin is exasperating a health issue (such as an infection or sore) some health insurance providers will provide coverage to resolve the issue.

Changes to your appetite

After bariatric surgery, many patients find that they no longer have the same cravings or enjoy the same foods that they did prior to surgery.

"After bariatric surgery, patients' tastes change frequently during the first few months due to the hormonal changes that occur in the digestive system," McKenna explains.

She adds that foods patients once found delicious may be of less interest after surgery. Of course, this could all change a few months after surgery as hormones fluctuate.

Additionally, certain weight loss surgeries may cause a temporary side effect known as dumping syndrome. Dumping syndrome is triggered by eating foods packed with calories, sugar, carbs, and fats, and it causes one to momentarily experience dizziness, lightheadedness, fast heart rate, sweating, and diarrhea.

Changes to your psyche

Some individuals may experience symptoms of depression and anxiety following weight loss surgery, according to Michele Reich, a licensed psychologist with the bariatric center at Main Line Health.

There are a few reasons this might happen, Reich says. The first is due to the hormonal changes that take place after bariatric surgery, and the second is the fact that some patients have unrealistic expectations about what their surgery will do for their bodies.

"The surgery should be seen as a tool. It will not do the work for the patient," Reich notes. "The patient will still need to exercise, eat well, take supplements, and deal with their stressful job or unhealthy relationships."

For example, some patients may struggle with excess skin while others still see themselves as overweight. If an individual has any unresolved issues such as previous trauma or an eating disorder, the bariatric team at Main Line Health will help navigate them before surgery so the patient feels as comfortable and confident as possible as their body changes.

At Main Line Health, our bariatric team is committed to ensuring that patients are well cared for as they experience any side effects of bariatric surgery. From educational classes to in-person and online support groups, patients have the support and coaching they need every step of the way to help meet their weight loss and lifestyle goals.

Ready to take the first step? Reach out today to request more information and begin your bariatric journey.

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