What does a gastric sleeve leak feel like?

Gastric sleeve leak is a hole or unsealed staple tissue in the stomach. It’s a complication that rarely happens after bariatric surgery. It is possible to prevent it, diagnose it and treat it. It’s good to know all the potential risks and recognize their symptoms. Its symptom of discomfort and pain differ from one patient to another and needs immediate medical care. 

The reasons behind leakage vary and that’s why patients build curiosity if some habits would cause leakage. This article will cover some of the questions you ask and the more factual side.

How would you understand if you have a leak? What does a gastric sleeve leak feel like? Let’s dive in for details:

What is a gastric sleeve leakage?

Gastric sleeve leakage is when fluids find a passage to drip out from the stomach due to the incompletion of healing surgical stitches. There are also other, less common reasons for it such as infections, the type of food intake, or the portion of food intake.

Despite its uncommonness, the leakage appears on the stapled tissue, but it is never a good sign because the fluids that leak may include stomach acid that helps digest food and may cause setbacks in the abdominal cavity.

What does a gastric sleeve leak feel like? 10 common symptoms

If you experience any of these common symptoms, medical attention is essential ASAP. If the symptoms are left behind or ignored, they may worsen in the future or even be life-concerning. If you want to know what does a gastric sleeve feel like, here are the gastric sleeve leakage symptoms that you could encounter:

  1. Fever
  2. Rapid heart rate
  3. Abdominal pain
  4. Nausea and vomiting
  5. Swelling or redness around the surgical incision site
  6. Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  7. Inability to eat or drink
  8. Blood pressure
  9. Fatigue or weakness
  10. Chest pain

What to do at home until you are taken to the hospital

If you are suspicious about abdominal leakage whether it’s you or your loved ones, call an ambulance for professional help. In the meanwhile, you can consider these ideas to reduce leakage or pain until you are taken care of in the hospital.

Do not eat or drink food: Avoiding food intake will help the leakage to reduce, but you can have small sips of water to wet your tongue in order to avoid dehydration.

Avoid physical activity: Rest on a sofa or bed, this helps to reduce pain and discomfort.

Keep track of the symptoms: Telling the doctor how you felt and are feeling at the moment will help them to find the root of the problem faster.

Remember, what you do at home is not a solution to the problem, it is only to maintain calm and stabilize the situation while professional help is on the road.

How common is it?

Studies show that there is only a 1-2% possibility for the leakage to occur. This depends on the doctor’s experience and the techniques that are used for the procedure.

Gastric sleeve surgery mainly has a very high success rate worldwide. With technology and experience, it is less likely to occur. At the end of the day, it depends on the techniques of how the surgery was done, the experience of the doctor, and other factors.

However, you will also be acknowledged of your post-op life before the surgery about how to reduce the chances of complications for a better recovery, and leakage is one of them.

When is it most likely to happen?

There are two main moments for gastric sleeve leakage to happen. It could be post-surgery early stages or delayed leak after gastric sleeve.

The stitches are most vulnerable when the patient is newly out of the surgery and eventually strengthen and heal day by day.

Post-surgery recovery time up until a month, the leak risk is slightly higher than long-term recovery. However, it can be easily directed and taken care of ASAP. The late leaks on the hand can happen after 3 months or more. The factors behind it could be poor healing, infection, or erosion of the staple line.

How to prevent

The gastric sleeve heals over time with the staple line, and you can also prevent complications and emergency surgeries also, support the healing process with the following steps:

  1. Experienced surgeon: Being handled by an experienced is more promising to have excellent outcomes.
  2. Pre-op instructions: A diet plan and exercise routine reduce the risk of complications in general and if you’re taking some medications, your doctor should know that because it may affect the outcomes of the surgery.
  3. Post-op instructions: It is an understatement to say it’s important to follow the given instructions after the surgery. There are specific constructions to follow for recovery time, diet choice in different periods of time, and body activity. Not only this prevents leakage, but it also helps increase your quality of life.
  4. Follow-up appointments: Generally your doctor writes down post-op visits after a period of time to evaluate your health status overall. This could help with complication prevention and the possibility of leakage in case there are indoor or outdoor agents.

Following these steps significantly improves recovery, and surgery purpose and counter future burdens including leakage issues.

How do doctors diagnose a gastric leak?

Generally, doctors take 3 important steps to track staple line leak, clinical assessment, imaging studies, and laboratory tests. Here is how to detect a leak after gastric sleeve step by step:

  1. The doctor will discuss the pain and discomfort that you experience and ask you about your medical and surgical history. The clinical assessment plays a role in physical examinations such as fever, abdominal pain, or tenderness to see if there are any hints of infection.
  2. Thanks to technology, the doctor may do some image studies and take CT scans, upper GI series, and endoscopy to visually capture the rear or hole that causes leakage. All those examinations are done with non-invasive methods such as x-rays, methylene blue solution, and endoscopic camera, which are performed to detect air, fluid leakage, or any other abnormalities.     
  3. Finally, there are blood tests to check for any red flags such as infection to examine blood cell count or CRP (C-reactive protein) levels.

If the leakage is exposed during diagnosis, treatment will be essential and will prevent a serious downhill road. The treatment might include antibiotics, abdominal cavity drainage, surgical fix for the leak or all combined.

Treatment options 

Regardless of the treatment approach, it is important to address gastric sleeve leakage promptly to minimize the risk of leak and ensure a successful recovery. It is essential to consult with a healthcare provider for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.

Gastric sleeve leakage has surgical and nonsurgical treatments. There are a few ways for gastric sleeve leak treatment and here is what doctors would consider depending on your condition:

Surgical conditions

If the case is severe, the patient will need a surgical procedure to close the tear or hole that causes the leaking.

In some cases, there could be a damaged stomach piece removal and reattaching of the remaining stomach together. This is a bit more invasive method but also likely to happen extremely rarely.

Non-surgical conditions

In non-sever cases, there is a feeding tube that feeds your body. You get all the nutrition needed carefully and monitored by your doctor. It can be bypassed through your nose or it may be oral nutrition. All this helps the injured area to heal and you are safely hydrated at the same time. 

Another way to solve gastric sleeve leakage is by endoscopic management that has a camera attached to it. The sleeve is fixed without surgery by inserting a thin tube until it reaches your stomach and with the doctor’s touch, it can be fixed.

Regardless of the treatment plan, your doctor will choose the best method for you and minimize the risks of complications in the future.

FAQ that you might be wondering

There are many additional curious questions our patients ask if some habits could cause leakage. These habits are not direct causes for leakage but some of them can be a risk for complication or the cause of delay of healing. Let us talk about them one by one.

Can smoking and alcohol cause a leak?

Doctors can’t recommend enough to temporarily stay away from smoking and drinking alcohol, at least until you’re fully recovered from your surgery. Both smoking and alcohol can impair the healing process and increase the risk of infections and leakage. 

It is best to postpone such habits for a few months not to only avoid complications but to also help with your recovery.

Can coughing cause a leak?

Coughing or sneezing causes no harm to the stitches. These are natural body reactions not related to the surgery. It could be cold or allergy, either way, it won’t affect the stomach stitches and it will not cause gastric sleeve leakage.

In case you are suffering from acid reflux post-surgery and you are chronically coughing, it will still not cause leakage. However, after consulting your doctor, you may use certain meds for coughing that could fix this problem.

Can coffee cause a leak?

Doctors recommend not drinking coffee for a few reasons such as dehydration and a rising appetite. However, you can consume coffee a month after the surgery. It is important to listen to your doctor’s post-op advice because the stomach is very sensitive right after the surgery and you only need to consume what you are advised. 

You should always be hydrated, coffee causes dehydration, and it can lead to the risk of complications. Even after recovery time, you can only consume small amounts of coffee with low caffeine.

Can having intercourse cause a leak?

Generally, intercourse does not affect the surgical stitches and it won’t cause leakage. However, it is best to wait 7-28 days after bariatric surgery. 

And if you are interested in having sexual activity during the 1-4 weeks after surgery, it is best to avoid harsh and sudden movements so the stomach stitches won’t be irritated. It is a matter of physical movements during intercourse, just like working out, things should be taken slowly for safety and not cause irritation in the healing process.

You should always be hydrated, coffee causes dehydration, and it can lead to the risk of complications. Even after recovery time, you can only consume small amounts of coffee with low caffeine.


Rebibo L, Tricot M, Dembinski J, Dhahri A, Brazier F, Regimbeau JM. Gastric leak after sleeve gastrectomy: risk factors for poor evolution under conservative management. Surg Obes Relat Dis. 2021;17(5):947-955. doi:10.1016/j.soard.2021.01.023 Link

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top