Dangerous Side Effects of Gastric Bypass Surgery

Two new studies indicate that gastric bypass surgery could have severely dangerous side effects, including severe hypoglycemia (low blood glucose level) and even death.

Blackouts causing traffic accidents

The first study demonstrated that gastric bypass surgery can result in a potentially dangerous hypoglycemia (low blood glucose) complication that may require quick treatment. It examined the history of three patients who suffered such severe hypoglycemia following meals, as a result of high insulin levels, that they became confused and sometimes blacked out. In two cases, this caused automobile collisions.

None of the patients responded to medication, and they all eventually needed partial or complete removal of the pancreas, the major source of insulin, in order to prevent them from undergoing dangerous declines in blood glucose.

“Dumping Syndrome”

A possible reason for the postprandial (after-meal) hypoglycemia they experienced is “dumping syndrome,” which occurs when the small intestine fills too quickly with undigested food from the stomach. This can happen following gastric bypass surgery.

However, the failure of the symptoms to respond to treatment suggests there are other mechanisms at work as well, such as increased insulin sensitivity following the surgery, and abnormal hormone secretion patterns resulting from alteration of the intestinal tract.

Symptoms of severe hypoglycemia can include:

  • Confusion
  • Lightheadedness
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Shaking
  • Sweating
  • Excessive hunger
  • Headaches in the morning
  • Nightmares

Risk of Death

At the same time, other research has uncovered a higher-than-expected risk of death following surgery for obesity, even among younger patients. In a study of more than 16,000 subjects, more than 5 percent of men and nearly 3 percent of women aged 35 to 44 were dead within a year of the surgery.

Slightly higher rates were found in patients 45 to 54, and among patients 65 to 74 almost 13 percent of men and roughly 6 percent of women died. Among those aged 75 and older, half of the men and 40 percent of the women died.

Malnutrition, Infection, Shock to the System

The potentially deadly complications can include malnutrition, infection, and bowel and gallbladder problems. The surgery itself can be a dangerous shock to the system, particularly for older patients.

Gastric bypass is the most common U.S. obesity surgery. About 160,000 people undergo gastric bypass surgery every year.

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