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Life After Surgery

Once you've had surgery, what can you expect?

First, you can expect a tremendous amount of support from your bariatric team at WakeMed Physician Practices - General Surgery.

Your surgeon and others on your team will continue to provide aftercare, especially when it comes to diet, exercise and support groups, to remind you that while you have to make many changes to your lifestyle, you don't have to go through it alone.

Weight loss surgery is a journey that requires commitment and effort on your part, but it will be worth it when you transform your life into one that is much more active, fuller and more rewarding.

One of the best resources for you will be others who have gone through this surgery and will know exactly how you feel. WakeMed Cary Hospital offers monthly support group meetings that will help you before and after your surgery, so be sure to talk to your bariatric coordinator about those.

Read on to learn about what to expect in early recovery, what you can eat and when, and how to find support groups in the area and online.

How long is recovery?

As with any major surgery, there will be a recovery period. However, this is generally not long, nor is it always painful. Most patients report experiencing discomfort and soreness rather than pain. Recovery time varies from patient to patient, but many patients return to normal levels of activity within three to six weeks of surgery. The better care you take before and immediately following surgery, the more quickly you'll resume normal activities. 

How often will I be able to eat?

You will receive a nutrition handbook about what to eat and what to avoid, and vitamin and mineral requirements. You also will get lots of guidance from your bariatric team about nutrition and eating habits. In general, you will start with a clear or full liquid meal plan that provides adequate protein and hydration. Gradually you will progress to solid foods.

General rules to follow:

  • You should eat several small nutritionally balanced meals each day, focusing on foods that are moist and low in calories, fat, cholesterol, and sugar.
  • Take small bites and chew slowly and well.
  • Include protein in your meals, which will help you feel full longer.
  • Avoid high-calorie drinks such as Snapple, Kool Aid, Gatorade, and Hi-C; do not add sugar to your drinks, and do not drink carbonated beverages or alcohol.
  • Drink more water.
  • Stop eating when you feel full.

Taking medications

Pills should be crushed for about six weeks after your operation. After that, small and medium sized pills are generally not a problem. Larger pills may need to be changed to liquid form. Check with your pharmacist to determine if your medication(s) come in liquid form.

Another option for medications is to crush them up. Some medications should not be crushed because they are "time released," so check with your pharmacist or your primary doctor if you have doubts about any of your pills.

Anti-inflammatory drugs that may irritate the stomach, such as aspirin, Motrin, Advil, and Aleve should not be used after gastric bypass or adjustable gastric band surgery.

How much exercise is needed after bariatric surgery?

Exercise is an important part of success after surgery, and should begin prior to  an operation. Depending on your discomfort level, you may be encouraged to begin exercising about two weeks after surgery. The long-term goal is to get 30 minutes of exercise three or more days each week.

Can I get pregnant after bariatric surgery?

Most doctors recommend that women wait at least one year after the surgery before a pregnancy, to allow your body to stabilize and ensure that you can nourish a fetus normally. Consult your surgeon and your bariatric team as you plan for pregnancy.

What is the long-term follow-up schedule?

Band patients need to work with their surgeons to have their band adjusted several times during the first 12  months after surgery.   Band adjustments maybe required after the first year, but are typically less frequent.  Bypass patients typically see their surgeons for 6 follow-up appointments the first year, then once per year after that. Over time, gastric bypass patients will need regular checks for anemia (low red blood cell count) and vitamin B12, folate, and iron levels.

Support Groups

How can I find a support group?

Support groups give you a safe, comfortable place to talk openly with others who are dealing with issues similar to you.

Most bariatric surgeons who frequently perform bariatric surgery will tell you that ongoing support after surgery helps to achieve the greatest level of success for their patients. Patients can learn a tremendous amount when sharing individual experiences.

Support groups tend to be upbeat, informative, and forward looking! Patients help keep each other motivated, celebrate small victories together, and provide perspective on the everyday successes and challenges that patients generally experience.

WakeMed Cary Hospital hosts a support group for bariatric patients. All potential and post-operative patients and their families are invited to attend these meetings, which are facilitated by healthcare professionals.  Learn more about the Weight Loss Surgery Support Group.

If you are out of town, you can find a list of support groups in your area at: www.wlscenter.com.  Check with your Bariatric Program coordinator for suggestions and a schedule of upcoming sessions.

Online support groups

Weight loss surgery patients are more frequently going online for support, as well. It's a great way to reach out to people, but you should be on the alert for situations that won't be helpful. For instance:

  • Support should mean support: Some people may share ways for "cheating" bariatric surgery, or use the group to complain endlessly. This isn't healthy or productive. Seek out healthy role models and limit contact with people with negative attitudes.
  • Look for support, not medical advice: Some people will take on the role of "the expert." Be aware that they are not healthcare professionals, so do not take healthcare advice from them.

Other resources

Debra Dupree, a 30-year tenured nurse on WakeMed Raleigh Campus, recently had weight loss surgery after witnessing her daughter's success with her own surgery.  Read about her experiences in these three blog posts:

A great source of support and information can be gathered by visiting the websites of the obesity related organizations and journals. Here is a partial list of the sites: