10 Years After Gastric Sleeve: Long-Term Success

Most people report positive results from gastric sleeve surgery 10 years later and beyond. About 20%, however, will experience long-term complications that can range from food tolerance problems to weight gain and even relationship issues. These problems can persist for years after the procedure.

This article will help you understand what to expect 10 years after gastric sleeve surgery, also known as sleeve gastrectomy. It also discusses ways to prevent complications, as well as when to reach out to your healthcare provider.

This surgery involves removal of about 80% of the stomach. Many complications occur because of greatly reduced stomach capacity.

Verywell / Laura Porter


Weight Regain After Gastric Sleeve: 10 Years Later

The 10-year outcome after gastric sleeve surgery tends to be good. Studies have found that most people are able to maintain an excess body mass loss of between 51% and 54% 10 years after surgery. This means they lost around half of their extra weight and were able to keep it off for 10 years.

Weight regain after gastric sleeve surgery happens for various reasons. Sometimes it has to do with the size of the sleeve or other factors such as an increase in the hormone that tells your brain your stomach is empty. Failure to stick to your healthcare provider’s recommended diet and exercise plan is another reason why you might regain weight in the years following gastric sleeve surgery.

Pros and Cons of Gastric Sleeve Surgery

There are various pros of gastric sleeve surgery:

  • You will likely lose weight because you will only be able to eat about 1/2 cup of food at a time.
  • It is a permanent surgery.
  • It can improve the health of individuals who have had trouble losing weight and keeping it off.
  • It may help improve long-term health concerns like diabetes and high blood pressure.
  • Studies have found that all types of bariatric surgery result in better quality of life due to improvements in physical fitness, mobility, and pain. People who underwent gastric sleeve surgery tend to report greater improvements than those who underwent gastric band surgery.
  • Death due to gastric sleeve surgery is rare.

However, there are cons to be aware of. It’s still possible to eat too much after gastric sleeve surgery. If you do, you may not lose much weight. This procedure may not help with long-term health conditions and you may experience complications.

Gastric Sleeve Complications and Side Effects After Surgery

Some people experience gastric sleeve complications and side effects following surgery. These can occur within days to months following surgery. Some of these complications and side effects may improve as you recover. However, it is possible for a gastric sleeve to cause problems that persist even years after the surgery.

Indigestion

Some gastric sleeve patients notice an increase in indigestion or upset stomach. This might be because of the smaller stomach size. It could also be because of changes in the way food moves through the digestive tract.

Nausea

Nausea is a common gastric sleeve complication. Most people notice that nausea improves as they recover, but some people have it for months or longer.

It’s not clear why some individuals have nausea after this surgery. It might be partly because food stays in your stomach longer. Nausea medications may be helpful.

Diarrhea

Some individuals may have diarrhea after surgery. This can happen because the balance of bacteria in your gut can change after surgery. Undigested nutrients in your small intestine may also cause diarrhea.

Diarrhea can cause dehydration or malnutrition. If diarrhea doesn’t go away on its own, your gastroenterologist, a doctor who specializes in digestive disorders, may be able to help.

Sagging Skin

When you gain excess weight, your skin stretches. This is why sagging skin is so common after any weight loss surgery. It can show up within months after the procedure.

A panniculectomy is a surgery to remove excess skin. Your surgeon may want to wait until your weight has been stable for one to two years before recommending this procedure.

Stomach Obstruction

Stenosis is a narrowing of the stomach outlet that makes it hard to digest food. It can sometimes block your stomach. This tends to occur within six weeks after surgery.

A surgeon can fix this problem by “stretching” the narrow spot.

Long-Term Gastric Sleeve Complications

Gastric sleeve surgery can cause mild to severe long-term complications. These can show up within months or years post-surgery.

Talk to your healthcare provider if you’re worried about gastric sleeve complications that may occur after a year or longer.

How Many Years Does a Gastric Sleeve Last?

Gastric sleeve is a permanent procedure. It lasts for the rest of your life and can’t be reversed.

Weight Regain

Weight gain usually starts in the third year after surgery. Individuals who don’t change their habits may gain back some or all of the weight they previously lost.

Food Intolerance

After gastric sleeve surgery, individuals can’t eat as much food at one time compared to before. This can cause trouble digesting certain foods, like red meat, rice, pasta, and bread following surgery.

Failure to Lose Weight

The stomach pouch can only hold half a cup of food in the first days after surgery. Over time, the pouch stretches. If you eat larger meals, weight loss may stop. This can happen if the stomach pouch is too large or you don’t follow post-surgery instructions.

Research indicates that around 20% to 35% of individuals experience a long-term failure rate. Failure rate is defined as a body mass index of greater than 35 within 18 to 24 months post-surgery.

Malnutrition

Malnutrition, or failure to get adequate nutrition, is serious and can show up years after the surgery. Some patients have trouble getting enough nutrients when they eat fewer calories, especially if they have diarrhea or nausea.

Your healthcare provider may suggest vitamins and minerals, medication, or other things to help you stay healthy.

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (Acid Reflux)

Heartburn and other symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) are common complications of gastric sleeve surgery and can show up even a year after the procedure.

Symptoms include:

  • Bloating
  • Feelings of fullness
  • Upset stomach

Acid-reducing medication can help improve GERD symptoms.

Stomach Ulcers

Stomach ulcers, also known as peptic ulcers, are more common after this surgery and can show up months to years later.

Stomach ulcers can cause:

Stomach ulcers are often found during an upper endoscopy, a procedure that uses a flexible tube with a camera to look at the upper digestive tract.

Gallstones

Gallstones, or hard substances that form in the gallbladder, are more common after any weight-loss surgery. These tend to appear within 18 months following the procedure.

Because of this, individuals sometimes need a cholecystectomy, which is a surgery that removes the gallbladder.

Abdominal Adhesions (Scarring)

The tissues of the abdomen are slippery. This helps them slide past each other when you move. Within days to years after surgery, you may have scarring that makes tissues “sticky,” causing a pulling feeling. It may be annoying or even painful. Sometimes, this scarring can block your small bowel.

Incisional Hernia

A hernia forms when an organ pushes through a weak spot in tissue or muscle. A hernia can occur after any surgery. With laparoscopic or minimally invasive surgeries, which are typically performed for gastric sleeve, it is less common.

Still, a hernia may develop months or years later. A hernia looks like a bulge at the site of your incision. 

Rare Gastric Sleeve Complications

Rare gastric sleeve complications can occur within weeks to years after the procedure.

What Is the Risk of Death From Gastric Sleeve Surgery?

The death (mortality) rate for gastric sleeve surgery is about 0.3%. This is considered low and is similar to other common surgeries.

Abscess

An abscess is a pocket-like collection of pus that forms in your body. When this happens just after surgery, it is usually because some of the contents of your intestines spilled or leaked. An abscess in the spleen, the organ that filters your blood, is a very rare complication of this surgery. 

Delayed Leak

A suture line leak, also called a suture line disruption, happens when stomach contents leak through the spot that was sewn together. When this happens, it is usually just after surgery. Sometimes, though, the suture area will start leaking months or even years later.

Delayed leaks are rare but still dangerous. They may require medications, hospitalization, or additional surgery. 

The symptoms of gastric sleeve leakage include:

Contact your healthcare provider if you have an increased heart rate and/or other concerning symptoms.

Mental Health and Social Concerns

This surgery can affect your mental health and your relationships in various ways.

Addiction Transfer

For some people, food is an addiction. They may self-medicate by eating too much. Because this surgery makes it impossible to overeat, individuals may form new addictions.

Examples of other addictions include:

  • Alcohol use
  • Drug use
  • Sex and love addiction

Relationship Issues

The divorce rate in the United States is between 40% and 50%. A 2018 study found that people who have had weight loss surgery have even higher divorce rates.

Weight loss can be hard on couples and the surgery may change the dynamics of the relationship. This can put stress on each individual, as well as the couple collectively.

Healthcare providers recommend talking about these issues with your partner. Couples counseling can help, too.

Preventing Gastric Sleeve Complications

Before and after gastric sleeve surgery, there are considerations to keep in mind that can help prevent complications.

Before Surgery

Prior to surgery, some measures are often recommended to reduce gastric sleeve risks. These include:

  • Attending a bariatric surgery education program
  • Receiving nutritional counseling
  • Getting psychological counseling
  • Having a physical exam, blood tests, and possibly stomach imaging done
  • Quitting smoking several months prior to surgery
  • Stopping blood thinning medication like aspirin
  • Losing some weight

After Surgery

After surgery, it’s important to:

  • Exercise, as this can reduce how long it takes to recover and help prevent blood clots
  • Continue any breathing and/or coughing exercises that your healthcare team taught you, as these can help prevent a lung infection and increase circulation
  • Stay hydrated to help with nausea
  • Consider having someone help with personal hygiene, physical tasks, and emotional support
  • Consider joining a support group with others who have been through a similar process

To reduce risks of complications after gastric sleeve surgery, you may have to avoid or limit:

  • Alcohol
  • Smoking
  • Sugary and starchy foods

Your healthcare provider will give you instructions and advice on settling into life post-surgery.

It is important to carefully monitor what and how much you eat after any type of bariatric surgery. Be sure to follow the specific instructions given to you by your healthcare provider. Generally speaking, the nutritional guidelines after weight loss surgery include 35% to 48% carbohydrates, 60 to 80 grams of protein a day, and a calorie intake of between 1000 to 1,400 a day. 

When to See a Healthcare Provider

After surgery, your healthcare provider will schedule some follow-up appointments with you to check on your progress and recovery. However, you should reach out to your healthcare provider immediately if:

  • You have a fever.
  • You are having difficulty breathing.
  • You have chest pain.
  • Your legs are swollen or red.
  • You are having difficulty urinating.
  • Pain medication is not working effectively.
  • You have been throwing up for 12 hours.

If in doubt, it’s always best to reach out to your healthcare provider.

Your surgeon will give you a post-surgical plan. Following the plan can help reduce the risk of complications.

Summary

Most people report positive results of gastric sleeve surgery up to 10 years after the procedure and beyond. However, gastric sleeve surgery may cause medical complications that can last a long time after surgery. Mental health concerns may also occur.

While there are ways to reduce the risks associated with gastric sleeve surgery, it is important to discuss all possible complications with your healthcare provider before deciding to move forward. Your healthcare provider can explain the risks and complications and suggest other treatments if appropriate.

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