Forensic Considerations in Bariatric Surgery Patients
Judy Melinek MD, Nikolas P. Lemos PhD FRSC D-ABFT
ABSTRACT: Bariatric surgery is gaining in popularity in the United States and around the world as a treatment for morbid obesity. Patients seek surgery in order to lose weight and limit the long-term effects of insulin-resistant diabetes, heart disease and lung disease, including risk of sudden death. While gastric bypass in patients with morbid obesity can reduce the risk of diabetes and myocardial infarction to population levels, the risk of death remains increased. These patients may die suddenly and unexpectedly as a direct result of surgery, as an indirect result of surgery, or of end-organ damage wrought by years of obesity, completely unrelated to the surgery. Proper forensic pathologic assessment of these patients requires an understanding of the anatomic changes caused by bariatric surgery, the complications and the metabolic consequences of the different procedures. In order to better understand this subgroup of patients, a search of the peer-reviewed medical literature at the National Library of Medicine was conducted for articles using the keywords bariatric, surgery, gastric bypass, autopsy, review, toxicology, alcohol, drug, ethanol, absorption, elimination, litigation, forensic, and death. This review outlines the most common laparoscopic and open surgical procedures; the common immediate post-surgical complications that lead to morbidity and mortality; forensic toxicological considerations in bariatric patients; and the long-term complications and other causes that could lead to unexpected death in these patients.