What Pain Medication Can I Take After Gastric Bypass Surgery?

The idea of undergoing gastric bypass surgery—or any surgery for that matter—can be daunting. Some people are afraid of general anesthesia, while others worry about post-operative pain. Pain is particularly tricky, as everyone has different tolerance levels. What may seem like mild discomfort to one person may be agony for another. Your surgeon will work closely with you to manage your pain effectively.

While post-operative pain is likely the immediate concern, gastric bypass patients need to understand what pain medications are safe for them to take for non-surgery-related aches and pains. Not all pain relievers are suitable for gastric bypass recipients, and the middle of a killer headache is a poor time to realize you don’t know what medications you can take. Continue reading to learn more about which pain relievers are safe for gastric bypass patients and which to avoid.

What is Gastric Bypass Surgery, and Why Does it Affect Pain Medication Options?

Gastric bypass surgery, also called Roux-en-Y gastric bypass, is a type of weight loss surgery. Like all weight loss surgeries, it helps individuals lose weight when traditional methods fail to achieve lasting results. Candidates for bariatric procedures have a body mass index (BMI) of 40+ or 35+ with an obesity-related health complication.

Gastric bypass surgery is a restrictive and malabsorptive procedure. It reduces how much food the stomach can hold and limits calorie absorption by bypassing part of the small intestine. Altering how the body absorbs nutrients also changes how medications affect and interact with the body. For example, some medications require stomach acid to work. However, gastric bypass surgery reduces stomach acid levels considerably. Understanding which medications work with your altered anatomy is essential for safe pain management.

Opioid and Non-Opioid Pain Medication

Opioids have several side effects that make them a poor choice for gastric bypass patients. They can cause nausea and vomiting, which isn’t ideal for patients who just underwent surgery to alter their digestive anatomy. Another significant concern is addiction. Your surgeon may prescribe opioids if your pain level is severe or non-opioids fail to provide adequate relief. Common opioid medications include hydrocodone, morphine, and oxycodone. Your surgeon may also prescribe pain relievers that combine opioids with non-opioids, such as codeine with acetaminophen or oxycodone with acetaminophen.

Most surgeons prefer non-opioid pain relievers for managing mild to moderate pain while reserving opioids for breakthrough pain. Acetaminophen products such as Tylenol are the safest over-the-counter pain medication for gastric bypass patients. Conversely, non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) are unsafe, as they increase the likelihood of stomach ulcers or perforations in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Common NSAIDs include:

  • Aspirin (Bayer)
  • Celecoxib (Celebrex)
  • Diclofenac sodium (Voltaren)
  • Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin)
  • Naproxen (Naprosyn)

Post-op pain is common, and your surgeon will prescribe medications to manage it. Whether you receive opioids, non-opioids, or a combination pain reliever, it’s essential to follow your doctor’s instructions. Once you heal from the surgery, remember that acetaminophen products like Tylenol are the safest option. Always reach out to your doctor if you’re unsure if a medication is safe.

Determining which bariatric procedure is best for you depends on several factors specific to your health and weight loss goals. Schedule a consultation to discuss your concerns and decide if bariatric surgery is right for you.


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