Laparoscopic adjustable gastric banding (LAGB) surgery is considered a relatively safe method of weight loss surgery, however, it is still surgery. Although major problems are rare, as with any surgical procedure, there are risks, complications, and side effects that may occur and must be considered.

Gastric banding is a relatively safe method of weight loss surgery. (Photo of LAP-BAND)

Since weight loss surgery is an elective procedure, you should be aware of what those risks are ahead of time and have the facts necessary to make an informed decision.

Potential Risks of Gastric Lap Band Surgery

There are two categories of risks to consider with lap band surgery:

  • the general risks associated with surgery
  • the specific risks associated with gastric banding

General Risks of Bariatric Surgery

Any type of surgery involves some degree of risk, including abdominal surgery and bariatric surgery. Surgical risks are even greater when the patient is obese or has underlying medical conditions. Specific risks will vary depending on a persons weight, age, and medical history.

Some of the general risks associated with abdominal surgery and bariatric surgery include, but are not limited to, these conditions: abdominal hernia; adverse reaction to anesthesia and medications; bleeding; constipation; death; dehydration; diarrhea; gallstones or other gallbladder problems; gastrointestinal inflammation or swelling; heart attack; infection; injury to surrounding organs; lung problems (such as pneumonia and pulmonary embolism); nausea; pain; stoma obstruction; stretching of the stomach; stroke; thrombosis (blood clots); vomiting.

The type of expected risks and complications will also vary depending on whether or not the surgery is performed using open or laparoscopic methods. Although most gastric banding procedures are performed laparoscopically, there is the possibility that the surgeon may need to switch to open surgery after the procedure has begun due to complications. Conversion from laparoscopic to open surgery occurs in about 5% of lap band patients.

Specific Risks of Gastric Banding

LAGB works wells for the majority of weight loss surgery patients, but there are risks to consider. In addition to general surgical risks, there are also potential complications and side effect that are specific to gastric banding.

Some of the most common problems associated with gastric banding include:

  • Band problems (erosion, slippage, leakage)
  • Esophagitis (inflammation, irritation, or swelling of the esophagus)
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Port problems (displacement, leakage, port-site infection)
  • Stoma blockage
  • Stomach problems (pouch enlargement, slippage)
  • Tubing problems (disconnection from port, leakage)

Reducing Risk

Any choice you make involves potential risks. Even not having weight loss surgery involves risk, as morbid obesity is seriously detrimental to health. If you decide to pursue weight loss surgery, there are several factors that will help reduce risk:

  • Surgeon selection
  • Patient selection
  • Patient compliance

Choosing a Lap Band Surgeon

To reduce surgical risks and complications, choose an experienced and skilled bariatric surgeon. Not only should the bariatric surgeon have sufficient experience and skill in general surgery and laparoscopic techniques, but should be proficient and properly trained in implanting the gastric band system you choose, whether the LAP-BAND System or REALIZE Band.

Patient Selection

To reduce specific risks associated with lap band surgery, it is important that patients meet the specific criteria for gastric banding. You will need to discuss your medical history and other personal factors with your surgeon and decide together if lap band surgery is the right treatment for you.

Patient Compliance

Many complications associated with gastric banding occur because patients do not follow the guidelines and restrictions for eating with the lap band. Some of the behaviors that can cause problems include eating too much at one time, eating too fast, not chewing food enough, eating restricted foods that are known to cause problems (such as fibrous foods, pasta or bread, skins on fruit, nuts), and drinking carbonated beverages.

LAP-BAND System vs. REALIZE Band

There are only two laparoscopic adjustable gastric banding systems (commonly referred to as lap band surgery) approved by the FDA for use in the United States, the LAP-BAND System and the REALIZE Band. Although differences exist between the two systems, the variations are more relevant to patient selection rather than overall safety. Both systems are relatively safe for a weight loss procedure, with fewer risks and side effects than gastric bypass surgery.

Your Personal Risk Profile

If you are seriously considering lap band surgery, you will need to discuss the situation with your surgeon. Your surgeon will be able to explain the specific risks that apply to you based on your medical history and health profile, as well as determine whether or not you meet the patient criteria for lap band surgery.