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Revista Española de Enfermedades Digestivas

versión impresa ISSN 1130-0108

Rev. esp. enferm. dig. vol.107 no.1 Madrid ene. 2015




Evaluation of bariatric surgery patients at the emergency department of a tertiary referral hospital

Descripción de la asistencia en urgencias de pacientes intervenidos de cirugía bariátrica en un centro de referencia



Amador García-Ruiz-de-Gordejuela1, Zoilo Madrazo-González2, Anna Casajoana-Badia1, Anna Muñoz-Campaña3, Francisco Javier Cuesta-González4 and Jordi Pujol-Gebelli1

1Bariatric and Metabolic Surgery Unit. Service of General and Gastrointestinal Surgery,
2Surgical Emergencies Unit, Service of General and Gastrointestinal Surgery,
3Service of General and Gastrointestinal Surgery, and
4Oral and Maxilofacial Surgery Department.
Hospital Universitari de Bellvitge. Barcelona, Spain





Objective: To describe the profile of the bariatric surgery patients that were admitted to the Emergency Department (ED).
Method: A retrospective review of the reasons why bariatric surgery patients go to our ED. We analyzed the first 30 days after the surgery. We evaluated the number and indications of admissions, the examinations ordered, and final diagnosis and destination of the patients.
Results: From January 2010 to July 2012, 320 patients underwent bariatric surgery at our Institution. Fifty three patients (16.6 %) were admitted to the ED at leas t once. We found 58 admissions (1.1 admissions by patient). Patients who had duodenal switch and Roux-en-Y gastric bypass were the most representative (74 %). The main indications for admission were abdominal pain (50 %), and problems related to the surgical wounds (22.4 %). Blood test was the most performed examination (75.9 %). The most frequent final diagnosis was unspecific abdominal pain in 27 cases (46.6 %), and complications of the surgical wound in 10 patients (17.2 %). Nineteen patients (35.84 %) were admitted to the surgical ward from the ED, and 5 of them required surgical revision (9.4 %). Multivariate analyses showed that the type of surgery was the only predictor variable for the ED admission.
Conclusions: Attending ED after bariatric surgery is not common, and less than a third of the patients required hospital admission. Just a small percentage of the examinations showed any pathological value. Readmission rate is very low. Surgical procedure is the only predictor for ED admission.

Key words: Bariatric surgery. Emergency department. Complementary examinations. Referral center.


Objetivo: describir el perfil de consulta en el servicio de Urgencias de pacientes intervenidos de cirugía bariátrica (CB).
Método: análisis retrospectivo de las consultas al servicio de Urgencias de pacientes intervenidos de CB. Se analizan las visitas realizadas en los primeros 30 días tras el alta. Se evalúan número y motivos de consulta/reconsulta, exploraciones complementarias realizadas, diagnóstico clínico establecido y destino de los pacientes.
Resultados: entre enero de 2010 y julio de 2012 se intervinieron de 320 pacientes de CB, 53 enfermos (16,6 %) consultaron al menos una vez en Urgencias. Se registraron 58 consultas (1,1 visitas/paciente). Los pacientes intervenidos de cruce duodenal y bypass gástrico representaron el 74 %. Los motivos de consulta más frecuentes fueron dolor abdominal (50 %) y problemas relacionados con la herida quirúrgica (22,4 %). La analítica sanguínea fue la exploración complementaria más solicitada (75,9 %). El diagnóstico más frecuente fue dolor abdominal inespecífico en 27 casos (46,6 %), y problemas de herida quirúrgica en 10 casos (17,2 %). Diecinueve pacientes (35,84 %) requirieron ingreso hospitalario desde Urgencias y 5 de ellos precisaron reintervención quirúrgica (9,4 %). El análisis multivariante muestra que la única variable en relación a las visitas a Urgencias es el tipo de cirugía.
Conclusiones: las visitas a Urgencias de pacientes intervenidos de cirugía bariátrica son poco frecuentes, menos de un tercio de ellos precisan ingreso hospitalario. Las exploraciones complementarias sólo mostraron resultados patológicos en un pequeño porcentaje de los casos. La tasa de reconsultas es baja. La técnica quirúrgica es el único predictor de consulta en Urgencias.

Palabras clave: Cirugía bariátrica. Urgencias. Exploraciones complementarias. Centro de referencia.



Bariatric surgery (BS) represents several surgical procedures for the treatment of morbid obesity and its related comorbidities. Up to our days, BS has demonstrated to be the only effective and long term treatment for obesity (1) and its related diseases. Day by day, the number of BS patients increases, and next to it the absolute number of complications related to the surgery, some of them diagnosed at the emergency departments (ED). It has been estimated that BS has a morbidity rate around 4 % and mortality below 0.3 % (2). Following the adoption of new surgical procedures, new complications and consequences also appear, some of them previously quite uncommon or just unknown.

On the other hand, medical education has an important deficiency in BS due to its relatively novelty, its scarce (or even null) specific weight in medical training plans, and due to be restricted to highly specialized referral centers. All these limitations imply that in several ED bariatric surgery patients, especially those operated at another hospital, represent and severe challenge for the physicians (3,4).

These problems had been highly discussed by national and international scientific societies of BS. Those societies promoted educational campaigns about morbid obesity, BS procedures and their related complications (5).

This paper evaluates and analyses the profile of the BS patients admitted to our ED, at a tertiary referral BS centre.



This is a retrospective study about the patients admitted to the ED of our centre (Referral and Tertiary University Hospital), after being discharged for primary bariatric surgery. Our armamentarium of primary bariatric procedures includes: Sleeve gastrectomy (SG), biliopancreatic diversion (BPD), laparoscopic gastric plication (LGP), duodenal switch (DS), and Roux-en-Y Gastric Bypass (RYGB). Revisional surgeries were excluded. Patients operated at our Hospital who went to ED during the first 30 days after discharge were included.

For the analysis we reviewed all the electronic medical records of patients admitted for elective and primary BS from January 2010 and July 2012. We included at the database variables about indication for admission at ED, even it was medical or surgical.

The variables we studied were: Primary bariatric procedure, number of admission by patient (between 0 to 3), the main symptom for admission, complementary examinations performed and their results, final diagnosis and destination after the admission at ED (discharge, admission to Surgical Ward, or emergency reoperation).

It is a descriptive study where discrete variables are presented with their frequency, continuous variables with mean and range. Comparative analysis were done by the chi-square discrete and discontinuous variables, and continuous by t-Student test. The multivariable analysis was constructed by selecting the best model for prediction using the Cp of Mallows criteria. Significant differences were accepted were p remained below 0.05.

Bellvitge University Hospital (Barcelona, Spain) has a Bariatric and Metabolic Unit formed by a multidisciplinary team with more than 20 years of experience. This unit complies the standard of quality and was accredited as a Centre of Excellence by Surgical Review Corporation (SRC) (former accreditation Centre for the American Society for Bariatric and Metabolic Surgery). The ED is a professionalized department with specialized physicians in general family medicine, internal medicine and surgeons with exclusive dedication for Surgical Emergencies.

The multidisciplinary team validated our Bariatric Surgery Protocol in 2008, and it is being revised nowadays. The choice of each procedure is done based on overweight, related diseases, and social and psicopathological conditions of the patients. Complex cases are discussed on monthly basis meetings of the team.

Two expert surgeons, one of them accredited by SRC as a surgeon of excellence by the ASMBS, perform the surgeries. By protocol diet onset is initiated early 24-48 hours after surgery. We also promote early mobilization after surgery and have restricted criteria for using intensive care units postoperatively. In all patients a pneumatic and methylene-blue dye test is done intraoperatively.

During the first postoperative day a new methylene-blue dye test and a blood test are done. We do not use systematically acute-phase reactants. Imaging complementary examinations are reserved for those cases with high suspicious of complications. We maintain the clinical judge to restrict the use of all these tools.

Finally, after hospital discharge patients are followed-up simultaneously by endocrinologists, dieticians, and surgeons one week after surgery, and after 1, 3, 6, 12, 18, and 24 months. After the second year, the follow-up is done yearly.



Between January 2010 and July 2012 we operated 320 patients for BS: 112 RYGB (35.6 %), 95 SG (30.2 %), 76 DS (24.1 %), 28 LGP (8.9 %) and 4 DBP (1.3 %). Fifty three patients (16.6 %) were admitted at least once at the ED, during the first 30 days after surgery. This is our study group. Forty nine patients were admitted once (92.5 %), 3 (5.7 %) twice, and just 1 patient (1.9 %) three times. Globally, all 53 patients were admitted 58 times (1.1 admissions/patient). Table I summarizes the demographic characteristics of the patients included.


Figure 1 represents the distribution of the admissions between the different types of surgery. Statistical analysis confirms that the distribution of admissions was not homogeneous (p = 0.016); patients after a DS or a RYGB concentrate most of the admissions. Both groups in combination represent the 74 % of all admissions.

Acute abdominal pain was the main indication for admission, representing 29 patients (50 % of admissions), followed by problems with the surgical wounds in 13 cases (22.4 %).

Complementary examinations performed at the ED are represented at table II. Distribution of them between the surgical procedures was not homogenous either. Ten patients (17.2 %) did not require any blood or imaging examination.

Final diagnoses are represented in table III. Most of the patients were discharged as unspecific abdominal pain (46.6 %). Usually, unspecific abdominal pain is due to altered bowel movements after the diversion caused at the RYGB or the DS. Patients with impaired diet tolerance were mostly due to dietetic transgressions, without any case of stenosis or food impaction. Patients with intraabdominal infection were treated by radiological percutaneous drainage. Surgical site related complications include a vast number of minor problems, being pain and superficial infections the most frequent; they only required minor attentions and sanitary counseling.

Nineteen patients (35.84 % of the study group, and 5.94 % out of all BS patients) were admitted to the Surgical Ward. The procedures that mostly required readmission were RYGB (7 patients) and DS (6 cases) (Fig. 2). Five patients (9.4 %) had to be reoperated on an emergency basis, 3 due to incarcerated port-site hernia (all patient operated for a DS), 1 hemoperitoneum (SG group) and 1 bowel occlusion (RYGB group). All 5 patients did well and had an uneventful postoperatory. In the 14 patients readmitted to Surgical Ward with no reoperation, the main indication was fever of unknown origin, intraabdominal collection and severe wound infections.

None of the five reoperated patients had any complication during the first admission. In the study group the median hospital stay after BS was 4 days, compared to 3 days in those who did not go to ED. During the primary procedure, 6 patients (11.32 %) of the study group presented some complication after surgery versus 22 (8.4 %) of the other group, with no statistical significance (p = 0.468). None of the 53 study group patients had to be reoperated during the first admission.

The univariate analysis showed that the surgical procedure was the only related variable to emergency admission (p = 0.0016). Multivariate analyses also confirmed this as a predictor factor. Sorting the surgical procedures by its complexity, the Odds ratio oscillated from 7.583 (2.03 to 28.3 95% CI) about LGP to SG; and 8.125 (2.64 to 25 95 % CI) of DS to SG.



Our institution operates 150 scheduled bariatric procedures a year, which represent about 4 % of the total surgical volume of the hospital. The ED receives a median of 254 patients per day (92,808 admissions in 2013). This means that our series (53 patients) represents 0.06 % out of all admissions (0.7 % of the surgical patients at the ED). Our study shows an emergency admission rate of 16.6 % of the scheduled patients. Our morbidity rate does not differ from the quality standards defined by the International Surgical Societies of Bariatric Surgery (6,7).

This paper presents one of the first series from our country about emergencies after bariatric surgery. The consultation rate at the ED is relatively low for the complexity of the patients and their disease. Most of the patients are diagnosed of unspecific abdominal pain or surgical wound complications, both are minor complications after the surgery. Only 5 patients were diagnosed of major complications and required emergency surgery, all of them underwent an uneventful evolution. Finally, 14 patients required hospital admission for observation or specific treatment. Univariate and multivariate analysis concluded that the type of surgery is the only variable that predicts the ED consultation.

In our area there are other 3 tertiary hospitals with big volume of bariatric surgery (more than 50-100 patients per year). None of them have ever presented or published any result about emergency consultations after bariatric surgery. In the literature, papers from Saunders (8,9) and Nguyen (6) showed similar results related to emergency reconsultations, indications and complications diagnosed. The main differences with our study are that those papers come from private North-American centres and the type of surgeries performed. Despite these papers do not take into account DS or LGP, they agree that the most complex surgeries are more likely to have complications, and therefore require more ED admissions.

The range of complications we may observe at the ED is wide: Acute or subacute bleedings, sepsis due to delayed or late onset leaks, occlusive patterns due to internal hernias or port-site hernias... (2,6,8,9). Other types of consultations are those related to food tolerance, that may increase if the restrictive procedures continue to grow up. It is very important that the ED physicians know the anatomy and pathophysiology of those bariatric procedures. The ignorance of bariatric surgery may lead to a late diagnose and a poor (or even fatal) evolution of those patients (10).

Acute abdominal pain and complications of the surgical wounds were the most important indications for ED admission. The distribution of the visits was not homogenous between the different types of surgeries (p = 0.016). Patients operated for DS and RYGB represent the main group of consultations. The greater technical complexity of both procedures predisposes those patients as the main candidate to ED admission. Moreover, both techniques are indicated to the more complex patients due to greater overweight or comorbidities.

Related to the examinations requested at the ED, we may highlight that most of the patient had a blood test (75.9 %) and a plain abdominal X-ray (70.7 %). Just with these two examinations we achieved the initial screening of the most severe complications. CT scan (done just in 27.6 % of the patients) was reserved for patients with the most complex surgeries -as duodenal switch- or for those with suspicion of intestinal occlusion, due to internal hernia or port-site hernias (11).

Upper endoscopy and esophagus-gastric (US) contrast swallow were the less requested examinations. Both procedures may be very useful for bariatric surgery patients, but its availability at ED is not always possible. Both examinations have restrictive indications and are reserved in case of suspicion of concrete complications related to food intolerance.

The type of surgery or the main symptom should orientate the examinations. The paper from the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery (ASMBS) for the management of emergencies after bariatric surgery orientates the diagnosis protocol around the main symptom. This is the best and fastest way to achieve a final diagnosis. In this revision we may find that we follow quite well these guidelines (3,12).

Bariatric surgery patients have different characteristics to normal population. Apart from the new and different surgical procedures, some of them experimental, morbid obesity implies some physiological disturbances. Morbid obese patients have a very low functional physiological reserve that obligates to a fast and direct diagnosis, and an aggressive and early treatment of the complications. On the other hand, their anthropometric characteristics make very difficult physical and imaging examinations. The big subcutaneous adiposity makes very difficult the evaluation of peritonism or the venous access (both central and peripheral). Moreover, most of the technical imaging equipment available at the ED has weight limitations that may exclude some of the bariatric surgery patients. These limitations are the main reason to recommend the evaluation of these patients at referral centers.

Most of the patients of our series (46.6 %) were diagnosed of unspecific abdominal pain, followed by complications of the surgical wound (17.2 %). It is very remarkable that all the complications we registered are surgical; we did not find any medical complications. From the ED, 32.1 % of the patients were admitted to the surgical ward (5.3% out of all the bariatric surgery patients for our period of study). Only 5 patients (9.4 % of the series) required emergency surgery (1.6 % from the initial group), with satisfactory evolution after surgery in all of them.

The multidisciplinary approach (13) of the bariatric surgery in our Institution allows that the patients arrive to surgery with good medical control of the medical comorbidities, which may be the reason for not having any medical complication registered in our series. These results are also a consequence of a very good and significant work done by Infirmary (14) in sanitary education and prevention of complications during the hospitalization. We also observed that as the main complications are minor complications, maybe some aspects of the medical education should be improved.

The design of the paper as an observational and unicentric study is the main limitation. Our Institution is a referral and tertiary centre of a not very wide area, so we estimate that the reliability of our results is high. Moreover, we have a follow-up rate near 75 % at 5 years after bariatric surgery, one of the highest in the literature.

In conclusion, Emergency department consultations after bariatric surgery have a lower rate than we expected for a complex surgical procedure. The main consultations are minor complications, which means that the standardized work-up during the preoperative time and postoperative hospital stay let us reduces the major complications before the discharge. This paper shows also that we have low major complication rates, but we should improve in prevention of minor complications.



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Amador García-Ruiz-de-Gordejuela.
Servei de Cirurgia General i de l'Aparell Digestiu.
Hospital Universitari de Bellvitge.
C/ Feixa Llarga, s/n.
08907 L'Hospitalet de Llobregat, Barcelona. Spain

Received: 13-06-2014
Accepted: 15-09-2014

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