FAQs for Bariatric Surgery: How to Handle the Pain
It's one of the first big fears when you are talking about undergoing a major surgery - "How bad is the pain?"
Obviously, we all have our own pain tolerances. Each person will be different in how they feel, but I will include the most common experiences and answers given.
Typically, your weight loss surgery will happen laproscopically, meaning you will have anywhere from 3-8 small incisions in your belly (typically about 1" long). This is dependant on your surgeons method, what surgery you are getting, or if you are having anything else done at the same time (like correcting a hernia or having your gallbladder removed at the same time.)
The most common "pain" you will deal with when having a laproscopic procedure is gas pain. In order for the surgeon to operate and move their tools within you, they fill your abdomen with a gas to give them space to work. After they close, some of the gas is still typically trapped, and will take a few days to work its way out. Most people describe this feeling as a lot of pressure in their belly and up through their shoulders. You will be encouraged to walk after surgery to help your circulation, but it also helps the gas move and relieves the pressure faster.
As for your actual incisions, you will be given pain medication to help manage the pain for the first few days. This is typically managed with an opiod medication, like a Percocet or Dilaudid, and supplemented with Tylenol. The doctors and nurses will set you up with a plan to ween off the pain killers once home.
An important thing to remember is that after weight loss surgery, you should stay clear of NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug). Common ones include asprin and ibuprofin. Unlike Tylenol, which breaks down in your liver, these break down in your stomach and can cause irritation. With your stomach being significantly smaller and healing from surgery, you want to avoid anything that could lead to complications like gastritis or ulcers.
Remember that your medical team is there to keep you comfortable. If you are dealing with pain, nausea, cramping - tell them and be your own advocate. Your team has options with medications and can help recommend non-invasive ways to help you feel more at ease as you are healing.
Important things to remember when you head home:
1. Keep your medications organized.
Keep track of when you take them so you know you aren't overdoing it. A simple notepad works wonders for this. If you have multiple prescription bottles that all look the same, consider a colorful tape or marker to make each bottle look a bit different so you don't grab the wrong one.
2. Walk. Please, please - walk.
It will help tremendously with the gas pain and any aches you get from being stuck in one place. It will also help prevent any complications with blood clots.
3. Plan for limitations (during the first week, especially.)
You will have lifting restrictions for awhile - make sure you have someone available to help shovel snow, or if you have a little toddler who sometimes needs to be picked up, have someone available to help. The first couple days can be exhausting - don't be ashamed if you need to ask someone to be nearby when you shower, or if you need help going up or down stairs.
4. Plan on where you will be set up for the first week. You will want to sleep sitting up during the first week to reduce tension on your incisions, as well as reduce any acid reflux issues after surgery. Many people set up recliners or couches that can be their home base, or have a good amount of cushions for your bed to keep you propped up.
If you are wondering about my personal experience:
For me, after one week I was off pain medication and was just dealing with being very tired. By week two, I was feeling normal and back in my normal bed and was able to sleep on my side/on my stomach.
In conclusion, your experience is your own. Don't worry about comparing your pain or recovery to anyone else - focus on healing and moving onto the next chapter of your life. After all - you are on the other side now. You made it.
Now it's all about the rest of your life. :)
Interested in contacting me about 1:1 Bariatric Life Coaching? You can apply here.
Interested in my 1-Month Pre-op Intensive? You can apply here.