Bariatric Surgery Can Be Deadly

Something like bariatric surgery, or weight-loss surgery, is sometimes highly promoted in our modern culture with more than 30% of adults and 17% of adolescents struggling with obesity in the United States. Many people love the idea of a Gastric Bypass or a Gastric Sleeve procedure since either one can result in substantial weight loss, improved quality of life, and even the resolution of multiple chronic or long-term conditions—and the results can happen pretty quickly.

However, it is important to be aware of the risks and negative side effects before agreeing to any major surgery. Per the American Society of Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery, reducing the size of the stomach or bypassing part of the small intestine is not a simple procedure and can have poor, even fatal, results.

Why people choose to have bariatric surgery

Like mentioned above, many people glorify the idea of weight-loss surgery simply for the aesthetic results, and it sometimes feels like anyone can get it in order to lose excess weight. Yet, weight-loss surgery is not for everyone who is overweight. There are certain criteria you have to meet in order to even qualify for a Gastric Bypass or a Gastric Sleeve. Some of the bariatric surgery requirements are:

  • History of unsuccessful nonoperative weight loss attempts
  • Being of stable mental health
  • No medical contradictions in relation to the surgery
  • Having a BMI equal to or greater than 40
  • Or having a BMI equal to or greater than 35 with at least one obesity-related condition

While ultimately losing weight is the goal of many people, some may choose such an invasive procedure so they can also reduce the risk of other serious health problems that being at a heavier weight can intensify. Bariatric surgery may also help lessen or eliminate the risk of:

  • Heart disease and stroke
  • High blood pressure
  • Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD)
  • Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH)
  • Sleep apnea
  • Type 2 diabetes

Invasive procedures come with great risks

These surgeries are generally considered safe procedures. However, the American Society of Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery’s report dives into the complications from bariatric surgeries that patients experience—and they are not minor. In fact, many complications were actually a result of medical errors. The study mentions that there was an initial rise in bariatric surgeries in the early 2000s which led to a significant amount of patient complications. Since then, there has been additional training for medical professionals and new procedures put in place in an attempt to decrease the likelihood of error.

Nevertheless, medical mistakes still happen. This report took data from the nation’s four largest malpractice insurers, which had a total of 175 claims from 2006 to 2014. It revealed some horrifying information, like the fact that 56.7% of the hospitals in which bariatric surgeries were done were not even accredited for such procedures. Further, 24.1% of surgeons were not board certified, and 3.4% of these surgeries were actually non-standard procedures. With numbers like these, it’s no wonder why patients were experiencing such severe complications.

Common complications in bariatric surgery that can lead to death

After getting an invasive procedure like this done by someone who’s not well-trained or in an improper setting, complications are likely. In the case of this report, the complications were much more severe than most imagined. It was actually found that death was the top complication from bariatric surgery that led to a medical malpractice lawsuit, with it affecting 27.1% of patients. Some of the most common complications that led to death were:

Bowel obstructions

Of the people in this report, 8.3% of people experienced a bowel obstruction that turned fatal. A bowel obstruction can cause severe abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting due to leakage of the intestinal contents into the bloodstream. It is considered to be a medical emergency and can be life-threatening if left untreated.

Surgical technical errors

Although the report does not go into detail about exactly what kind of surgical technical errors happened, 6.9% of patients experienced them. Something as simple as cutting the wrong area or leaving a sponge or instrument inside the body can cause it to shut down. Anesthesia used during the surgery to keep the patient unconscious and pain-free may also cause a complication. Allergic reactions, heart problems, and breathing difficulties can all lead to fatality.

Wound infections

After surgery, there is a risk of infection at the incision site or in the abdomen. If the infection is not treated promptly, it can spread throughout the body and become life-threatening. Infection is what claimed the life of another 6.9% of patients.


A reported 6.3% of patients experienced bleeding, which can happen after any surgery—but it must be stopped quickly. If it goes unrecognized, it can lead to organ failure.


After surgery, there can be an accidental tear if the wounds weren’t properly stitched or if they come undone. 6.3% of these patients experienced something like this where it may have caused a leakage into the abdomen and led to sepsis.

Nutrient deficiencies

Some types of bariatric surgeries are done to purposefully create malabsorption in order to restrict the number of calories the body needs. Because of this, supplements may be needed so the body still gets proper nutrients. If left untreated, like in 4.9% of these patients, the results can be life-threatening.

Most complications can be prevented

Complications after any surgery are not all too rare. However, that is typically why hospitals hold you overnight to be sure you’re stable and in good enough health to go home. If medical professionals don’t recognize the signs or leave a patient unattended for a long period of time, things can go from bad to worse very quickly and unfortunately lead to death. When that happens, it opens up the potential of having a very big medical malpractice lawsuit. In the report mentioned above, families were awarded up to $10,400,000 for the loss of their loved one due to the negligence of a medical professional or hospital. The average amount families were awarded was $293,499.83, making this a huge case that proves these medical professionals were at fault.

If you were injured or lost a loved one at the hands of a negligent doctor, you should contact an experienced Memphis medical malpractice attorney as soon as possible. We know that serious complications after something like a bariatric surgery can be difficult on you, and the attorneys at Bailey & Greer, PLLC want to help. Poorly trained or careless doctors need to be held accountable for such serious injuries, and we’ll help you get justice. We have offices in Jackson and Memphis, TN, plus one in Little Rock, Arkansas to serve you better. Give us a call or fill out our contact form to get in touch with us.