Fatal Complications of Bariatric Surgery

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Bariatric surgery is an increasingly used method to treat morbid obesity. The mortality rate among patients undergoing bariatric operations is generally quoted as between 0.05-2.0%. Our focus was not on mortality rates but rather on the reasons patients die following the procedures. In New York City, deaths that are due to predictable complications of appropriate therapy are certified as therapeutic complications.


We retrospectively reviewed all deaths investigated by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in New York City between 1997 and 2005 in which bariatric surgery had been performed. We report the fatal complications, the interval between surgery and death, the type of procedure, and coexisting morbidities.


Autopsies were performed on 95% of these fatalities. There were 97 deaths due to therapeutic complications of the operations. The interval between the initial surgery and death ranged from several hours to years. The most common complication was an anastomotic leak with subsequent infection. A high percentage of deaths occurred after discharge (40%) and/or >30 days after surgery (37%). There were 8 deaths from complications of bariatric surgery that occurred >1 year after surgery.


Studies that report the mortality rate during hospitalization or within 30 days of surgery, underestimate the actual incidence. Bariatric surgery carries both short- and long-term risks.

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