Bariatric surgery is a great way to dramatically lose weight, improve self-esteem, and regain strength and energy. But if you’re considering weight loss surgery, you may also be wondering about stomach scars. Scarring is a natural part of the body’s healing process; even small incisions can leave behind some marks.
The size and extent of scars after bariatric surgery will vary depending on factors such as how intrusive the intervention is, your age, genetics, and how well you care for your incisions after the procedure. The good news is that many modern weight loss procedures no longer require incisions, and even those that do, such as laparoscopic bariatric surgery, result in more minor, less noticeable scars that will likely fade over time.
In this article, we’ll discuss the different types of weight loss surgery scars, what can impact their appearance, and steps you can take to minimize or even avoid them altogether.
What is Bariatric Surgery?
Bariatric surgery, commonly known as weight loss surgery, refers to a category of medical interventions designed to help individuals struggling with severe obesity lose weight. These surgeries are often recommended when traditional weight loss methods, like diet and exercise, haven’t produced significant results and the person’s health is at risk due to obesity-related complications.
There are several types of weight loss surgery, broadly categorized into three main groups:
Restrictive Procedures: These methods limit the amount of food the stomach can hold, making you feel fuller with smaller amounts. Types of restrictive procedures include:
- Gastric Sleeve Surgery (Sleeve Gastrectomy): This procedure involves removing a large portion of the stomach – about 80%, leaving a smaller “sleeve” roughly the shape and size of a banana. That limits the amount of food that can be consumed and reduces the production of the hunger hormone ghrelin.
- Adjustable Gastric Banding: During this procedure, also known as lap-band surgery, a surgeon places a band around the upper part of the stomach, creating a small pouch and a narrow passage to the rest of the stomach. This is considered a less invasive method than gastric sleeve surgery because it doesn’t modify the stomach permanently. The goal is to restrict how much you can eat at one time.
Malabsorptive Procedures: These surgeries alter how the digestive system absorbs nutrients, leading to reduced calorie and nutrient absorption. Types include:
- Roux-en-Y Gastric Bypass: This involves creating a small stomach pouch and rerouting the small intestine to bypass a portion of it to limit the absorption of calories and nutrients.
Combined Procedures (Restrictive and Malabsorptive): Some surgeries combine restrictive and malabsorptive elements to achieve weight loss. These include:
- Biliopancreatic Diversion with Duodenal Switch (BPD/DS): This procedure involves removing a large portion of the stomach and rerouting the small intestine, making the procedure both restrictive and malabsorptive.
How is Minimally-Invasive Bariatric Surgery Performed?
In addition to open surgical procedures that involve incisions and stitches, there are minimally invasive options that require little to no cutting. These include:
Laparoscopic Bariatric Surgery: Most bariatric surgeries are now performed laparoscopically, which is considered minimally invasive surgery. Small incisions are made in laparoscopic procedures, and a tiny camera (laparoscope) is used to guide the surgeon.
Compared to traditional open surgery, laparoscopic bariatric surgery incisions tend to be half an inch or less, and the procedure involves a shorter recovery time, less pain, and a lower risk of complications. Laparoscopic bariatric surgery is an excellent choice for individuals who need to lose significant amounts of weight but are worried about scars from bariatric surgery.
Endoscopic Bariatric Surgery: This type of procedure involves using an endoscope, which is a flexible tube equipped with a light and camera. The endoscope is inserted through the mouth or other natural body openings during an endoscopic procedure.
Examples of endoscopic bariatric procedures include the endoscopic sleeve gastroplasty, which uses sutures placed endoscopically to reduce the size of the stomach, and the intragastric balloon, where a deflated balloon is temporarily placed in the stomach endoscopically and then inflated to occupy space, limiting the amount of food the stomach can hold.
Endoscopic procedures are considered non-invasive, have shorter recovery times, and may be more suitable for individuals who aren’t candidates for traditional bariatric surgery. However, they may not provide the same degree of weight loss as laparoscopic and other surgical options. Ultimately, the choice of procedure depends on factors such as your health, preferences, and the severity of obesity.
Does Bariatric Surgery Leave Scars?
All surgical weight loss procedures, with the exception of endoscopic sleeve gastroplasty and the endoscopic intragastric balloon, involve cutting the skin, thus leaving some degree of scars on the stomach from surgery. A scar forms as a natural part of your body’s healing process.
When your dermis (skin) is injured, whether from an accident or a surgical incision, the body produces new collagen fibers to repair the damage. These new fibers will typically have a different texture and color than the healthy skin surrounding it.
Scars heal differently and vary in appearance depending on several factors, such as their location and the person’s age. For example, some can be flat, raised, pitted, or flared.
They can also be white, skin-colored, reddish or purple. Some people may also develop keloids, which are thick, raised scars that result from an overproduction of collagen. Unlike regular scars, keloids grow larger than the wound that caused them. Younger people, who tend to have higher collagen production, as well as people of color, are at an increased risk of developing keloids.
What to Expect with Bariatric Surgery Scars
The extent and appearance of scars after bariatric surgery largely depend on the type of surgery and the specific technique employed. Laparoscopic, single-incision gastric sleeve and open gastric sleeve surgery can all result in different levels of scarring.
Laparoscopic Bariatric Surgery Scars
Laparoscopic bariatric surgery leaves small, initially red scars that fade over time. Immediately following the procedure, laparoscopic scars may look red and swollen, but this subsides as stitches dissolve or are removed. There may be a brief period when laparoscopic scars become more noticeable before they start fading, usually beyond six months. The fading process of this type of scar is influenced by factors such as genetics and scar management.
Single Incision Scars
Single incision bariatric surgery involves, like the name suggests, a solitary small incision, often in the navel (belly button). The main advantage of this procedure is that it minimizes scarring compared with procedures that involve multiple incisions. The resulting scar is typically small, discreet, and in a natural body crease, making it difficult to notice.
Open Gastric Bypass Scars
These days, minimally invasive techniques have become the preferred approach for gastric bypass surgery, making open surgery a less common choice. The open approach involves creating a large midline incision that extends vertically from the breastbone to the navel. This type of surgery is usually reserved for particular cases, such as emergencies, where a broader access point is necessary.
In open procedures, scars from bariatric sleeve surgery can be significant, although they can become less prominent over time. It’s worth noting that most gastric bypass procedures are now performed using laparoscopic techniques, which significantly reduce scarring and promote faster and easier recoveries.
Can Bariatric Surgery Scars Be Avoided?
Bariatric procedures can be incredibly effective in helping you achieve and maintain a healthy weight. Fortunately, technological advances have led to the development of non-invasive options, such as endoscopic and laparoscopic procedures, which result in minimal scarring. Endoscopic sleeve gastroplasty, for example, involves no incisions and allows for quicker recovery times. Similarly, endoscopic gastric bypass revision surgeries involve no incisions and significantly reduce scarring compared to open surgeries.
There are also things you can do to minimize the appearance of your bariatric surgery scars if you require open surgery. Following your provider’s guidance on scar care and using specialized products such as silicone sheets or gels can be helpful.
Proper wound care is also essential, as is protecting your incisions from direct sunlight to avoid hyperpigmentation. Staying hydrated and eating a healthy diet can also promote skin health. Above all, remember that patience is critical, as most scars will naturally become less noticeable over time.
Non-Surgical Weight Loss Procedures from The Silhouette Clinic
Losing weight can be challenging, especially when you’re doing everything right and still not seeing results. The pressure of society’s unrealistic expectations around food and weight, as well as the constant influx of new diet trends and weight loss pills on social media, can make it even harder to figure out what’s truly best for your health and body.
Non-surgical weight loss can be an excellent option for many people, especially when paired with dietary changes, increased physical activity, and behavior modification. That’s why at The Silhouette Clinic, we offer non-surgical weight loss solutions customized to your unique needs, ensuring that you achieve and maintain a healthy and aesthetically pleasing weight.
We believe that healthy eating and physical activity are critical to long-term success, so our procedures include personalized diet and exercise coaching from our registered dietitian. And, if additional procedures or medications are necessary to help you reach your goals, we work with you to minimize any potential impact on your body while ensuring that you achieve the desired results.
Ready to start your transformation? Contact us today to schedule a consultation!