Medical malpractice claims from bariatric surgery becoming more common

Bariatric surgeries like gastric bypass are complicated procedures. Unfortunately, a surgeon's errors or malpractice makes the risk of serious complications or injury much higher.

More than 100,000 bariatric surgeries are performed each year. The majority of bariatric patients will come through surgery just fine, experiencing only normal complications and adverse effects like pain, fatigue, nausea and surgical site tenderness as they heal. For some, though, bariatric surgery - something usually done as a last-ditch effort to lose weight and get healthy - ends up doing more harm than good.

Why is bariatric surgery so popular?

As the rate of obesity continues to rise in our country, gastric bypass and other weight loss surgeries are becoming more common. Bariatric surgery will usually result in rapid, sustainable weight loss and the resolution of obesity-related health conditions like Type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure.

Many patients feel that these benefits outweigh the risks related to invasive bariatric procedures like gastric bypass (also called "Roux en Y gastric bypass" or just "RNY"), duodenal switch, biliopancreatic diversion, vertical sleeve gastrectomy, adjustable gastric banding or distal gastric bypass.

Nonetheless, gastric bypass surgery and other bariatric surgeries aren't a "quick fix" for obesity, nor are they "one size fits all" procedures. There are exacting criteria that must be met before surgery, including:

  • Having a body mass index (BMI) of at least 40 (or a BMI of at least 35 with one or more serious health conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol or other "comorbidities")
  • Going through a psychological exam
  • Complying with a medically supervised weight loss plan
  • Having numerous pre-surgical lab tests
  • Meeting with one or more medical professionals making up the patient's bariatric support team; this can include a dietitian, bariatric surgeon, nurse, nutritionist, exercise consultant or pharmacist

Only after these criteria have been met and the patient's circumstances are evaluated can a surgeon decide which procedure is appropriate and best-suited to meet the patient's needs. Performing the wrong surgery on a patient (i.e. performing an RNY bypass when a vertical sleeve gastrectomy would have been the better procedure given the patient's unique health history) could end up being just as hazardous as keeping the excess weight.

Recognizing bariatric surgery malpractice

As with any surgery, there are risks associated with bariatric procedures, including adverse reactions to anesthesia, infection, formation of excessive scar tissue, leaking of the new stomach pouch or the intestines, retained surgical objects (like surgical sponges, clamps, retractors, needles, loose staples, surgical towels, draping and scalpels), blood clots and hypoxia.

Some risks are more common in bariatric patients because high abdominal fat levels can make it more difficult for the surgeon to see blood vessels and vital organs. Should accidental damage occur, the patient could bleed internally, suffer irreparable harm to vital organs or even die unless the issue is diagnosed promptly and addressed immediately. In addition, preexisting conditions like diabetes and heart disease can make it more difficult to heal from surgery, which could lead to even more complications down the road. Bariatric patients with comorbidities need to be treated in an exacting manner and carefully monitored for any signs of complications after surgery, and their surgeons and entire care team must be performing to the utmost of their abilities at all times.

Have you or someone you love been harmed by a surgeon's malpractice during a bariatric surgical procedure? If so, there might be legal options available to hold the at-fault physician or facility responsible; speak with a medical malpractice attorney at Rosenberg, Minc, Falkoff & Wolff, LLP, to learn more.

Keywords: bariatric surgery, gastric bypass, malpractice, negligence, surgical errors

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