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.
In general, most patients return to work in 1-4 weeks, depending upon procedure. That said, recovery times do vary enormously upon procedure as well as between individuals. It’s important to remember that there is no set recovery time – everyone is different. There is also a big difference between return to normal activity and full recovery.
As a guideline, both open and laparoscopic gastric bypass and sleeve surgery patients have about a 2-3 week recovery period, although some can take as long as 6 weeks before they can return to work. Open surgery patients generally take longer. The difference in how these two surgeries are performed explains this. Open surgery is completed by making one large incision on your abdominal area. Laparoscopic surgery instead uses five or six very small incisions to complete the procedure. This causes laparoscopic surgery patients to have significant less scaring then open surgery patients and consequently in some cases a speedier recovery time.
The procedure with the shortest recovery time is lap band surgery. On average, lap band surgery patients return to work in one week and are fully recovered in just two weeks.
Hospital stays times often reflect this too – lap band patients with just 1-2 days and bypass/sleeve patients 2-4 days.
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.
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 gastric bypass 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.