Bariatric weight loss surgery can cause permanent nerve, brain injuries

Bariatric weight loss surgery has been a good solution for many people who struggle to maintain a healthy weight. In fact, many medical experts believe that it’s essentially the only option for folks whose body mass index (BMI) is 40 or greater.

Based on my experience as a Houston, Texas medical malpractice lawyer, I can share with you that bariatric procedures don’t come without risks. Some of those risks, of course, are unavoidable—every surgery has a risk of complications.

On the other hand, bariatric surgeries present some unique post-operative dangers to patients that some surgeons tend to downplay or even ignore altogether. You can read what I’ve written about many of these risks here.

Of all the types of risks associated with weight loss procedures, the one area that probably gets the least attention is neurological or nerve complications. The medical literature reflects that 5–10% of all patients have some type of neurologic complication or deficit after bariatric surgery. These conditions can show up in a time frame that includes quickly after surgery to years later , and include things like:

• Brain damage or encephalopathy

• An abnormal change in mental status or behavior

• A burning or tingling sensation, or numbness

• Peripheral neuropathy, affecting motor or sensation and the extremities

Some neurologic injuries occur when the surgeon fails to identify and protect nerves during the procedure itself. For example, I’ve represented clients who’ve endured immense suffering from gastroparesis. In these cases, the surgeons cut the vagus nerve, which paralyzed each patient’s stomach.

Other neurologic injuries are related to post-operative care, many of them caused by poor nutrition. Because bariatric surgery alters the natural gastrointestinal anatomy of the body, patients can expect to have absorption and nutrition issues that require close monitoring and supplements. Plus, many patients have bouts of nausea and vomiting after surgery that add to the nutritional challenge. These are the reasons why the standard of care requires the surgeon to educate bariatric patients on the importance of nutrition and follow patients post-operatively to make sure they are on track.

I can’t think of a more dreaded post-operative neurologic condition for bariatric patients than Wernicke’s encephalopathy, which is permanent brain damage because a patient doesn’t receive enough Vitamin B1. There are four classic signs of this condition, and the diagnosis requires at least two of them: (1) malnutrition or a deficient diet; (2) abnormal motor function in the eyes; (3) new problems in areas controlled by the brain’s cerebellum, including things like poor muscle coordination; and (4) a cognitive or orientation component, such as confusion or difficulty remembering things.

Wernicke’s encephalopathy is a medical emergency that surgeons, physicians, and nurses must be familiar with and consider when treating post-operative bariatric patients.

If you’ve been seriously injured because of a neurological nerve issue following bariatric surgery, then contact a top-rated experienced Houston, Texas medical malpractice lawyer for help in evaluating your potential case.

Robert Painter
Article by

Robert Painter

Robert Painter is an award-winning medical malpractice attorney at Painter Law Firm Medical Malpractice Attorneys in Houston, Texas. He is a former hospital administrator who represents patients and family members in medical negligence and wrongful death lawsuits all over Texas. Contact him for a free consultation and strategy session by calling 281-580-8800 or emailing him right now.