Management of gastrointestinal leaks after surgery for clinically severe obesity

Surg Obes Relat Dis. Sep-Oct 2012;8(5):609-15. doi: 10.1016/j.soard.2011.04.222. Epub 2011 Apr 27.


Background: Gastrointestinal leaks after bariatric surgery are the primary cause of serious morbidity and mortality nationwide. Enteric leaks can differ in severity, presentation, and management, depending on the type of bariatric surgery performed. Our objective was to describe the clinical presentation and treatment outcomes in patients who developed postoperative leaks at a university hospital bariatric referral center.

Methods: A retrospective observational study using descriptive statistics was conducted on data from 1499 bariatric operations performed at our institution from 1994 to 2010. The procedures included a variant of biliopancreatic diversion with long limb reconstruction (BPD-LL) in 820 patients (791 open and 29 laparoscopic), Roux-en-Y gastric bypass (RYGB) in 301 patients (105 open and 196 laparoscopic), and sleeve gastrectomy (SG) in 208 patients (5 open and 203 laparoscopic).

Results: Of these patients, 30 (2%) developed a postoperative leak at a median of 18 days (range 2-32) postoperatively. The primary procedure was laparoscopic SG in 12 patients (5.8%), laparoscopic RYGB in 5 patients (1.6%), and BPD-LL (12 open and 1 laparoscopic) in 13 patients (1.6%). In all patients who underwent laparoscopic SG, the leak site was along the staple line. The gastrojejunal anastomosis was leaking in 4 (80%) and 12 (92.3%) patients in the RYGB and BPD-LL group, respectively. The enteroenteral anastomosis was leaking in 1 patient each in the RYGB and BPD-LL groups (20% and 7.7%, respectively). Three patients (10%; 2 from the BPD-LL group and 1 from the RYGB group) presented with generalized peritonitis and underwent emergency re-exploration; nonoperative treatment was successful in the remaining 27 patients (90%). Stent placement for persistent gastrocutaneous fistula was used in 9 patients (30%; 8 from the SG cohort and 1 from the BPD-LL group). The overall mortality rate was 3.3%.

Conclusion: In our experience, most leaks resulting from antiobesity surgery were successfully managed using nonoperative methods. Rapid management of gastrointestinal leaks using computed tomography-guided drainage and/or intraluminal stent placement could be the treatment of choice in selected patients.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anastomotic Leak / etiology
  • Anastomotic Leak / therapy*
  • Bariatric Surgery / adverse effects*
  • Drainage
  • Emergency Treatment
  • Endoscopy, Gastrointestinal / methods
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Laparoscopy / adverse effects*
  • Length of Stay
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Obesity, Morbid / surgery*
  • Radiography, Interventional
  • Reoperation
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Stents
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed