Jan - Feb 2015

Health Quiz: Prevent Serious Complications After Surgery

By Dwayne V. Smith, MD FACS

Which potential post-surgical health conditions pose a risk to bariatric patients?

 1. Atelectasis or post-operative pneumonia

 2. Blood clots in legs (DVT)

 3.Pulmonary emboli

 4. All of the above

The Answer:

Any surgery has the potential for post-operative complications. What many patients don’t realize is the ACTIVE role they take in their own care can lower many of their health risks. While your care providers are responsible for diagnosing and treating these potential complications, it’s better to act pre-emptively by avoiding these situations if possible. This is where YOUR ACTIVE participation positively impacts YOUR speedy recovery.


Atelectasis (poor inflation of the lungs) often occurs after surgery when patients are given narcotics for pain control. To make matters worse, many bariatric patients also have coexistent sleep apnea. Hence the danger for developing this condition is even greater. Add the possibility of a bacterial infection and a  pre-existing condition, like lung disease (COPD, asthma), and it only takes a day or so to convert to a full-fledged pneumonia. By breathing deeply on a regular basis---sometimes using a plastic device called an incentive spirometer---you can help to prevent this situation. Your nurse will encourage you, but it’s important to make it your own responsibility.


When your body is immobile, blood clots have an increased risk of forming. Often we give low doses of anticoagulant medicine to lessen this risk. Sometimes we use sequential compression devices to try to keep blood moving in the legs and lessen the risk of clots forming there. Activity with assistance as needed to avoid falls is one of the best ways to prevent clots from forming. The problem comes when clots do form in the legs, which may become large enough and then move to the lungs (pulmonary emboli) where the clots may hinder pulmonary circulation and oxygenation to the point of cardiovascular compromise—or even death. Again, prevention by getting out of bed when possible and maintaining activity is the best treatment.


YOUR efforts in actively cooperating with YOUR post-operative care make all of the difference in YOUR recovery!


Key: All answers to the opening question are “correct”.