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Bariatric Surgery: Complications and Liability

Bariatric surgery refers to any procedure performed on the stomach or intestines to induce weight loss. It is a major type of surgery that is incredibly invasive. For this reason, it comes with a risk of complications and surgical errors. If you suffered a serious injury, illness, infection or adverse outcome from bariatric surgery, you may be able to hold someone liable with a medical malpractice lawsuit.

Surgical Team Performs Bariatric Surgery

What Is Bariatric Surgery?

An individual may elect to undergo bariatric surgery if he or she is at risk of health problems associated with obesity, such as cardiovascular complications, high blood pressure, stroke and type 2 diabetes. There are four types of bariatric surgery:

  • Gastric bypass: restricts the amount of food the stomach holds by changing its shape and size.
  • Gastric band: installs a silicone tube around the top of the stomach to limit the amount of food you can eat.
  • Sleeve gastrectomy: removes a portion of the stomach to restrict calories and hunger signals.
  • Duodenal switch: combines a sleeve gastrectomy with an intestinal bypass to decrease the absorption of food.

Each of these interventions involves a different procedure and potential complications. However, the shared goal of all bariatric procedures is to induce weight loss and help the patient live a healthier lifestyle. All are highly invasive surgeries that are risky due to the possibility of surgical errors.

Is Bariatric Surgery Safe?

While a complication can arise with virtually any type of surgery – including all four types of bariatric surgery – some types have more potential for error than others. In general, gastric bypass, gastric banding and sleeve gastrectomy surgeries are viewed as safer than a duodenal switch. Complications commonly associated with these procedures are most often not life-threatening. The more complicated the procedure, the greater the risks. Of all types of bariatric surgery, gastric bypass has the highest survival rate.

What Are Some Common Complications of Bariatric Surgery?

As with any major surgery, bariatric surgery carries a variety of potential health risks. Complications may arise during the procedure even if the surgeon and surgical team do everything right. Common examples include hemorrhaging (excessive bleeding), adverse reactions to anesthesia, blood clots, breathing problems and infection. However, the odds of complications drastically increase if the health care providers make mistakes.

Once the procedure is finished, a patient may experience latent complications. In some cases, a patient may need a second or revision surgery to address these issues. One example is abdominal hernias, which can result from the initial surgery. Other complications include kidney stones, bleeding, dehydration and nutritional deficiencies. Less common complications are abdominal stretching, staple leakage, pain and vomiting. Medical monitoring, prescription medications and limited diets often may be required following bariatric surgery.

Who Is Liable for Errors Associated With Bariatric Surgery?

Before undergoing any type of bariatric surgery, a patient should be fully informed of all potential benefits, risks and alternatives. Only then can the patient give his or her informed consent. Failure to obtain informed consent is an example of medical malpractice. During the surgery itself, medical errors such as negligent surgical technique or improper operating room procedures may also occur.

If a health care professional is negligent or fails to adhere to the required standards of patient care during bariatric surgery, it can lead to adverse health consequences for the patient. Examples include anesthesia mistakes, poorly sanitized equipment, nicked nerves or arteries, wrong site or wrong patient surgery, and leaving foreign objects in the body cavity. In the worst cases, these errors can be deadly.

The surgeon or other health care provider responsible for a preventable bariatric surgery error that causes patient harm may be held liable. If the surgeon is an employee of the hospital or surgical center, the facility can also be held liable. Filing a medical malpractice claim against one or more parties could result in compensation for your past and future medical bills, pain and suffering, lost wages, disability, and more. A Philadelphia medical malpractice attorney can help you explore your legal options after bariatric surgery complications.