Gastric Bypass Surgery + Too Much Food Intake = Choked to Death?

Here’s a lesson for people who’ve undergone gastric bypass surgery: eating too much food that can’t fit into your scaled down stomach can have deadly consequences.

Take the case of a 64-year-old British woman named Dianne Cooper-Clarke who died after food which, under normal circumstances, should have descended to her stomach, got clogged in her throat. The Daily Mail reports:

Dianne Bernadette Cooper-Clarke, 64, died after food clogged her throat and stopped her from breathing.

She had undergone gastric bypass surgery but kept it secret from her family and started eating too much after the operation.

Her oesophagus swelled to the size of a normal stomach and food built up all the way to her throat, causing her to suffocate, an inquest in Truro, Cornwall, heard.

It is worth noting that Ms. Cooper-Clarke had her gastric bypass in 2010 and died in 2011 so she didn’t eat too much immediately after surgery as the report above seems to imply. It is also important to note that choking to death is not actually listed as a possible side effect of gastric bypass surgery. In fact, according to experts interviewed by ABC News, “gastric bypass patients are no more likely to choke than someone who didn’t undergo the surgery”.

Says Dr. Mitchell Roslin, a bariatric surgeon at Lennox Hill Hospital in New York (via ABC News): “Choking is not a realistic fear for bariatric surgery patients. This just demonstrates that crazy things can happen to anyone.”

Still, he cautions patients who underwent gastric bypass surgery to watch how they eat after their operation. “After surgery, correct behavior should be measuring food, eating small amounts several times a day and not eating to the point where you’re too full or throwing up,” Dr. Roslin says.

As for Cooper-Clarke, this is what a post-mortem examination reveals of what happened to her according to pathologist Hugh Jones of the Royal Cornwall Hospital (via Daily Mail):

“The tube that goes from the mouth to the stomach was swollen and food had built up all the way to the throat. There was too much food in there. Doctors found no evidence of cancer and experts confirmed the gastric operation was carried out properly.

A gastric pouch reduces the stomach. People get round this by making their oesophagus bigger. That’s where the food was staying. I think they eat a tiny bit and think it goes somewhere, so they’ll have a little bit more, and it’s a longstanding thing.

Your oesophagus is the size of a little finger, but hers was as big as her stomach. I considered the food had blocked off her breathing and that was the cause of death.”

By the way, for those of you who are wondering about the risks and possible complications of gastric bypass surgery, here’s a list of short and long term risks associated with the procedure according to the Mayo Clinic:

Short term risks:
Excessive bleeding
Adverse reactions to anesthesia
Blood clots
Lung or breathing problems
Leaks in your gastrointestinal system
Death (rare)

Longer term risks and complications:
Bowel obstruction
Dumping syndrome, causing diarrhea, nausea or vomiting
Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia)
Stomach perforation
Death (rare)

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