Reviewed by Enrique Elli, M.D.
Lap Band surgery is one of the three common bariatric surgery procedures. Other common bariatric procedures include gastric bypass surgery and gastric sleeve surgery. Compared to the other popular weight loss surgeries, Lap Band surgery is performed in the shortest amount of time and has a very low intraoperative complication rate. It’s important to note that complication rates after Lap Band surgery may be higher compared to other surgeries.
Recovery from Lap Band surgery is also easier when compared to other procedures. This article will detail what you can expect when recovering from Lap Band surgery. Each individual’s recovery will likely be slightly different from this article. It’s always important to follow your surgeon’s instructions when recovering from Lap Band surgery.
On your surgery day you’ll be anxious, nervous, and probably question your decision to have Lap Band surgery. This is normal. Your surgeon and your nurses will be able to answer any last minute concerns you may have before going into surgery.
Before going into surgery you’ll get an IV and compression stockings. The IV will be used to give you anesthesia, fluids and antibiotics before, during, and after your procedure. The stockings provide on and off compression to your lower legs to prevent blood clots.
After signing your consent form, you’ll be given some medication and your anxiety will start to dissipate. You’ll be wheeled into the OR where the Anesthesiologist and OR nurse will put you under general anesthesia.
You’ll wake up within 20 or 30 minutes of surgery in the Post-Anesthesia Acute Care Unit (PACU). Your PACU nurse will check on you and make sure you are comfortable. Some surgeries are done on an outpatient basis. If this is the case you’ll either stay in PACU or be moved to a recovery room. If your surgeon wants you to stay overnight, then you’ll be moved to your room.
You shouldn’t experience any pain at this point. The narcotics from surgery will keep you comfortable and in and out of sleep. During the first night, you may experience slight pain at the incision sites. You’ll remain propped up with pillows under your head. Your throat may be sore, dry, and slightly painful. This is normal after general anesthesia. The ET tube (breathing tube) causes this discomfort after surgery.
A few hours after surgery, you may be asked to get up and take a few steps. You may walk a lap around the nurses’ station and possibly be asked to do it later in the evening. This helps greatly with recovery. It reduces pain from the CO2 used during surgery (occasionally, the CO2 used during surgery can collect in the abdomen and cause pain in your shoulder a few days out) and ensures that you’re mobile enough to be home on your own. You’ll be asked to urinate before leaving the hospital. Your IV will be removed by the nurse. Have a good friend or family member ready to drive you home.
Most patients do not feel any hunger or cravings on day 1.
Follow your surgeon’s orders, but most of the time you’ll be allowed small sips of clear liquids. Many surgeons will require you to do a ‘swallow test.’ This involves drinking chalky, white liquid called barium. You’ll then receive an X-Ray to confirm that fluids are passing through the band, there are no strictures, and the band is placed correctly.
If you’re staying in the hospital overnight, you may receive fluids via IV. If you are going home, you may be asked to take small sips (often from medicine cups so you don’t drink too much) every 15 or 20 minutes.
Days 1 to 3 After Surgery
Your first day after surgery will be the start of a new journey. You’re past the scary part. Now it’s up to you to make the most of your Lap Band.
You’re sent home from the hospital with discharge instructions, a lung exercising device, pain pills, and possibly some nutritional supplements.
Day 2 and 3 are the days that you may start experiencing pain. The most prevalent spot for pain is in the upper left quadrant (under your ribs on the left side). You should be moving around every day but very little or no lifting and no strenuous activity. Your abdomen will be sore. You might feel like you’ve done hundreds of sit-ups.
Gas pains may be noticeable but typically go away. If you sip your water too fast, you may feel pressure in your chest, so sip slowly and follow your surgeon’s discharge instructions. You’ll probably be restricted to clear liquids on Day 1 and Days 2 and 3 may allow for other liquids.
You may also experience some pain in your shoulders from the CO2 used during surgery. These pains are normal and can be managed with the pain medicine your surgeon prescribed. If at any point the pain is unbearable, you vomit often, have a fever, or have other symptoms that just don’t seem right, call your surgeon.
Most discharge instructions ask that you walk for about 30 minutes per day the first week after surgery. If you can walk more without undue stress, and your surgeon allows it, you should. Keep your head elevated and move your feet and legs often the first few days after surgery. This helps with circulation and prevents blood clots.
Don’t lift anything heavy or engage in strenuous activity. Once you are off of your pain medication you will be able to drive.
You will likely be able to take a shower, but its typically not recommended to soak your incision sites the first week after surgery (no baths). After showering make sure the incision sites (typically 5) are dry and clean. Take notice of any redness. If something looks infected, or if you have a fever, call your doctor.
You will probably be asked to use a Spirometer every twenty or thirty minutes. This is a breathing device that helps to increase the flow of oxygen into the lungs and ensures you are taking healthy deep breaths.
Again, follow your Lap Band surgery discharge instructions. On day 1 you will typically be limited to clear liquids. Clear liquids include:
- Ice Pops
- Fruit Juice without pulp (but ask your surgeon)
Days 2 and 3 may include other liquids such as soups, vegetable broths, protein shakes, and meal replacement shakes. Do not drink anything carbonated.
You will probably start to feel hungry. This is normal. Stay strong and follow your prescribed diet. Make sure you drink enough water and take any vitamins (typically chewable) or supplements that the doctor prescribed.
Days 3 to Day 7 After Surgery
Days 3 to 7 can be difficult. You may really start to feel hunger pains and food cravings. If you’re using pain medication you shouldn’t be driving and your activity is still limited. Most of your friends and family will be back to their normal routine and you are still stuck at home. Boredom can easily set-in.
You may be feeling some regular nagging pain in your abdomen. Again, most of the pain will be at the site of the Lap Band port. This is typically located a few inches under your ribs on your left side. Continue to take your pain medication as needed. Activity during the first week should still be limited to walking. Continue to get at least 30 minutes of walking daily. Do not lift anything heavy and do not engage in strenuous activity.
A liquid diet is typically recommended for the entire first week after Lap Band surgery. Meal replacement shakes will become your best friend. Remove anything tempting from your pantry. It’s not worth risking a complication for a couple of potato chips. If you don’t have a blender or a mixer/shaker bottle, its worth investing in one. Make sure you get your fluids and continue to sip slowly.
Chew your vitamins and any other supplements as prescribed. Monitor your urine and bowel movements. You shouldn’t have any blood in your stool and your urine should not be dark. If its dark, up your water intake and talk to your surgeon’s office if it doesn’t improve.
Continue to follow same activity routine. As you’re able to walk more, walk more. Don’t exhaust yourself and don’t do anything strenuous but stay active. Organize something in the house that you’ve put off for a while. Stay motivated and don’t let boredom get you down.
Week 2 and Beyond
You’ll likely have your first follow-up visit and your first Lap Band fill during or shortly after week 2. If you’ve noticed anything strange or worrisome, write it down on a notepad. Bring the notepad to your doctor’s office for your visit. This is a good time to get all of your non-pressing questions answered.
You’ll also be back to work or your normal routine. You’ll still have exercise restrictions but should be up and out of the house more.
Pain should be minimal at this point. Hopefully, you’ll be able to go throughout the day without much medication. This means you’ll be able to drive and you should be back to work.
Continue to monitor your incision sites for redness or pain. Keep them clean and dry when you’re not showering. Contact your doctor if you notice changes at your incision sites.
Your surgeon may allow you to start on soft foods on week 2. These include:
- Mashed potatoes
- Mashed chicken or fish
Most food can be pureed so that you can eat it during this time but follow continue to follow your post-operative diet. Your surgeon may not want you to eat certain foods even if they are mashed or pureed.
Introduce these foods slowly and eat small amounts at a time. This is a good time to start eating healthier. Yes, you can eat pudding, but should choose healthier foods with less sugar whenever possible. Continue to drink your supplements, chew your vitamins and drink enough water.
Stay active. You will probably notice less energy as a result of your restricted diet. This is normal. The energy will return.
As you embark on Lap Band surgery, you are choosing a new life. You’ve made a difficult decision. Surgery is not the easy way out. Patients that are successful with Lap Band surgery do not revert to old habits. They choose healthier food options, eat slower and more deliberately. Successful Lap Band patients choose to take the stairs over the elevator. They change their life.
The Lap Band is only a tool to start your new life. It only puts you on the right road. It’s up to you to continue down that road.
Recovery is difficult but its very doable. You’ll get through the first two weeks. Its up to you to become a success.