Are you wondering if your red incisions after gastric sleeve surgery are normal?
Will they scar?
Why do they itch?
Here are some simple tips to care for gastric sleeve incision care, and information to help you know when you should go to the doctor.
There is a learning curve while recovering from bariatric surgery. From learning what you can eat after gastric sleeve to what to expect with your gastric sleeve incision scars, I've got you covered!
What Kind of Incisions Will I Have After Gastric Sleeve Surgery?
With advances in medicine and technology, most gastric sleeve surgeries are now done laparoscopically. This means several small incisions will be made in the upper abdomen (1). Small tools are then inserted through these areas to complete the surgery.
Some doctors do still prefer the older way of longer incisions, so be sure to ask your doctor beforehand which method she will use. Laparoscopic incisions will heal quicker and are less likely to leave you with big scars.
What Will My Gastric Sleeve Wounds Look Like?
After your surgery you will probably want to know if your situation is “normal.” Whether you had the traditional surgery or laparoscopic, basic wound care principles will be the same.
Some surgeons may close the wounds with stitches covered by tape or gauze. Others may leave a thin layer of glue over the incisions that will eventually wear off.
Each doctor has their preferred methods of closing the wounds and recommendations for aftercare. Because of this, it is important to choose a surgeon you trust so you can do what your surgeon recommends without worrying.
Disclaimer: This post is not a substitute for medical advice. Please listen to your gut, and seek medical advice if you feel it is warranted.
What is Normal?
After your surgery, there may be redness, swelling, and even clear discharge at the incision sites. This is normal. Oftentimes people get worried when the skin is red or swollen, but as long as you have no other signs of infection, this is a typical part of the healing process.
Keep in mind that our healing abilities also depend on our overall health and genetics. If you feel your incision site isn't healing as quickly as you thought it would, then your body is most likely taking its own sweet time. Consult with your surgeon if you are worried, but just remember that we will all heal in slightly different timeframes.
When Should I Worry?
Gastric sleeve surgery incisions are similar to other wounds when it comes to signs of infection. If your wounds are swollen, red, and warm to the touch, monitor them closely.
Consult a doctor immediately for any of the following:
- pus or other green, brown or yellow discharge
- foul smells
- your incisions split open or blister
- you have a fever
In most cases, these can be common complications of surgical sites, but if your site is infected you will need medical intervention. If you think you do have an infection, especially if you have a temperature, get in touch with your doctor right away. Go to urgent care or the emergency room if necessary.
If you let the infection fester untreated, it will wreak havoc on your incision sites and lead to further complications and scarring.
How Do You Care for Gastric Sleeve Incisions?
I cannot emphasize enough that you should always follow your doctor's instructions for postop incision care. Some surgeons will have you cover the wounds, others will leave them open.
These next few tips for how to care for your gastric sleeve incision sites are relatively universal, but remember: listen to your surgeon. Not Facebook groups, not blog posts… the person who you trusted to operate on you. These tips will help you prevent infections and minimize scarring.
Keep Your Gastric Sleeve Incisions Dry
It is important to keep your incisions dry. Frequently, your surgeon will instruct you to avoid showering for up to 10 days after surgery. If you do shower during that time, keep your incisions as dry as possible. Do not take a bath or get in a pool or hot tub.
I have seen some folks recommending gently blow-drying the area after showering to save time. This has the potential of blowing bacteria into your wound site, so it's best to air dry.
Leave the Tape Alone
If your surgeon left strips of tape on your incisions, leave the tape on until it falls off. Keeping your incisions covered with paper tape will keep the site clean and also works to reduce scarring.
For many people, this tape will stay on for up to 4 weeks. Some doctors, however, might have you remove it after a week, then replace it, and then change it once a week thereafter. Follow your director's instructions, but in any case, keep the tape as dry as you can.
Anecdotally, 3m micropore paper tape helps keep the area clean and dry. Paper tape is also less irritating if you have sensitive skin or allergies to other bandage adhesives.
Keep Your Gastric Surgery Incisions Clean
If instructed by your doctor to actively clean the area, use water and soap only. Make sure you pat the area dry when you are finished.
Although it might be your first instinct to put hydrogen peroxide or alcohol on wounds, these products are not intended for your gastric sleeve incisions. This can slow your healing process and cause more complications.
How Long Does it Take for Gastric Sleeve Incisions to Heal?
Your incision sites will be mostly healed within 2 weeks, but you will still want to be careful until you get the all-clear from your doctor.
It is essential to keep the sites clean and dry (have I said this enough times yet?), but you also want to avoid doing things that may delay healing such as:
- using Neosporin or other antibiotic ointments as these will keep your incision wet
- covering the area with waterproof bandages
- removing the fibrin, or picking at scabs, this will make your scars worse
- going swimming
- picking at the ends of stitches as you run the risk of reopening your wounds
- exposing the wounds to direct sunlight because this will make your scars darker
When Does the Drain Hole Close?
Drains seem to be less common (2) with gastric sleeve surgery than bypass. Some doctors will use a drain only while you're in the hospital, some may leave them in for a week, and others will not use them at all. Once the drain is removed, the healing process is about the same as your other incisions – two to four weeks.
If you do have a drain hole, you will take care of it the same way as the other incisions. Keep it clean and dry, and monitor for any signs of foul discharge or infection.
Your body has been through a traumatic process and it will take time to fully recover and adjust to this new normal. Follow your doctor's instructions, listen to your intuition, and keep your incisions clean and dry for the best results when your wounds are healing.
How to heal gastric sleeve incision scars
Every time I get a surgery, I obsessively apply Vitamin E oil – of course after the incision is fully closed and I get the a-okay from my surgeon. But my best trick? Scar Away patches. These helped me heal my thyroid cancer scars better than any I've seen! You can't even tell I had my thyroid removed, from the outside looking in at least… 😉
Importance of Trusting Your Gut
As I said earlier, it's critical to talk to your surgeon and trust your gut if you think something is wrong. While many people dismiss your symptoms, especially if you are posting in Facebook groups, your intuition is a powerful tool and you should use it.