Is gastric leak negligence a significant concern in post-operative care?

Bariatric surgery has helped thousands of patients achieve and maintain a healthy weight when other weight loss methods haven't worked. Reaching a healthy weight has a host of benefits, which can sometimes include eliminating other conditions such as hypertension (high blood pressure) and diabetes.

There are all kinds of minimally-invasive weight loss surgical options, including gastric sleeve (sleeve gastrectomy), gastric bypass, a Roux-en-Y gastric bypass, biliopancreatic diversion with duodenal switch (BDP-DS), and adjustable gastric banding (lap band). 

Gastric leaks after bariatric surgery

Bariatric surgery doesn't come without risks. With these procedures, surgeons are either removing or modifying significant parts of the gastrointestinal tract. This means there can be complications.

Just because there's a complication doesn't mean there was negligence or deviation from the standard of care. On the other hand, when a bariatric surgeon doesn't investigate patient complaints after surgery, that constitute negligence and translate into big problems for the patient. In a case we wrote about recently, bariatric surgery malpractice can leave patients with permanent colostomy.

Gastric leaks are one of the dreaded complications of bariatric surgery. As the name suggests, gastric leak means that there's a hole and leak in the stomach or bowel, typically in the area where the bariatric procedure was performed. 

It weight loss surgery, the bariatric surgeon modifies the stomach and/or intestinal tract. This can include cutting away and reducing the size of the stomach and changing the path that food and liquid flow through the gastrointestinal tract.

The site of this re-routing is called anastomosis. These are common locations where a gastric leak occurs. Gastric leaks can also happen where there's surgical stitching or when an infection develops.

Common symptoms of gastric leaks

When a patient develops a gastric leak, the contents of the digestive tract flow into the patient's abdominal cavity, where they can cause infection, inflammation, and sepsis, as well as significant and disabling pain. 

Bariatric surgeons and nursing staff should carefully consider patient complaints and perform thorough physical examinations to avoid overlooking symptoms of a gastric leak. Without going through a proper differential diagnosis process, some surgeons jumped to the conclusion that these common symptoms of a gastric leak are simply related to normal post-operative healing:

  • Fever
  • Abdominal pain
  • Increased heart rate (tachycardia)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain

Gastric leak medication malpractice

Gastric leaks can happen even with proper bariatric surgical care in the operating room. When the surgeon and nursing staff ignore a patient's post-operative complaints and don't investigate them, though, that's another story.

Undiagnosed, untreated gastric leaks can cause severe, permanent injuries to the patient that could have been avoided with proper care.

A bariatric surgeon recently settled a case for $1 million involving an undiagnosed gastric leak for one of his patients. Let's call her Sydney Kara. 

Sydney Kara had a sleeve gastrectomy, and over the next several months had abnormal symptoms that she reported to her surgeon. 

This bariatric surgeon ordered a CT scan four months after the surgery, which the radiologist interpreted as having findings “consistent with a gastric leak.” Although the radiologist informed the bariatric surgeon of the findings, the surgeon's office did not notify Sydney Kara and didn't mention the abnormal radiology report at any follow-up visits. Learn about the 3 most common problems a lawyer hears from people who had bariatric weight loss surgery.

Three years later, Sydney Kara's symptoms worsened, leading to a return to the operating room where a broncho-gastric fistula was discovered. As a result, her entire stomach, entire duodenum (part of the small intestines), and left lower lobe of her lung had to be removed.

Sadly, Sydney Kara's life was wrecked because of her surgeon's poor post-operative care.

If you have suffered serious injuries due to substandard bariatric surgical care in Texas, we recommend contacting an experienced Texas medical malpractice attorney for a free strategy session regarding your potential case. Through our work Painter Painter Law Firm secures $1,700,000 settlement in bariatric weight loss surgery medical malpractice claim.




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.