The hospitalized postbariatric surgery patient


Postprandial hyperinsulinemic hypoglycemia (“late dumping syndrome”) can develop years after surgery

Vasomotor symptoms such as flushing/sweating, shaking, tachycardia/palpitations, lightheadedness, or difficulty concentrating occurring 1-3 hours after a meal should prompt blood glucose testing, as delayed hypoglycemia can occur after a large insulin surge.

Most commonly seen after RYGB, late dumping syndrome, like early dumping syndrome, can often be managed by eliminating sugars and simple carbohydrates from the diet. The onset of late dumping syndrome has been reported as late as 8 years after surgery,11 so the etiology of symptoms can be elusive. If the diagnosis is unclear, an oral glucose tolerance test may be helpful.

Alcohol use disorder is more prevalent after weight loss surgery

Changes to the gastrointestinal anatomy allow for more rapid absorption of ethanol into the bloodstream, making the drug more potent in postop patients. Simultaneously, many patients who undergo bariatric surgery have a history of using food to buffer negative emotions. Abruptly depriving them of that comfort in the context of the increased potency of alcohol could potentially leave bariatric surgery patients vulnerable to the development of alcohol use disorder, even when they did not misuse alcohol preoperatively.

Of note, alcohol misuse becomes more prevalent after the first postoperative year.12 Screening for alcohol misuse on admission to the hospital is wise in all cases, but perhaps even more so in the postbariatric surgery patient. If a patient does report excessive alcohol use, keep possible thiamine deficiency in mind.

The risk of suicide and self-harm increases after bariatric surgery

While all-cause mortality rates decrease after bariatric surgery compared with matched controls, the risk of suicide and nonfatal self-harm increases.

About half of bariatric surgery patients with nonfatal events have substance misuse.13 Notably, several studies have found reduced plasma levels of SSRIs in patients after RYGB,6 so pharmacotherapy for mood disorders could be less effective after bariatric surgery as well. The hospitalist could positively impact patients by screening for both substance misuse and depression and by having a low threshold for referral to a mental health professional.

As we see ever-increasing numbers of inpatients who have a history of bariatric surgery, being aware of these common and important complications can help today’s hospitalist provide the best care possible.

Dr. Kerns is a hospitalist and codirector of bariatric surgery at the Washington DC VA Medical Center.


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10. Coupaye M et al. Evaluation of incidence of cholelithiasis after bariatric surgery in subjects treated or not treated with ursodeoxycholic acid. Surg Obes Relat Dis. 2017;13(4):681-5. doi: 10.1016/j.soard.2016.11.022.

11. Eisenberg D et al. ASMBS position statement on postprandial hyperinsulinemic hypoglycemia after bariatric surgery. Surg Obes Relat Dis. 2017 Mar;13(3):371-8. doi: 10.1016/j.soard.2016.12.005.

12. King WC et al. Prevalence of alcohol use disorders before and after bariatric surgery. JAMA. 2012 Jun 20;307(23):2516-25. doi: 10.1001/jama.2012.6147.

13. Neovius M et al. Risk of suicide and non-fatal self-harm after bariatric surgery: Results from two matched cohort studies. Lancet Diabetes Endocrinol. 2018 Mar;6(3):197-207. doi: 10.1016/S2213-8587(17)30437-0.


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