Gastric Bypass Surgery Complication: Petersen’s Hernia

By Michael Zerres

Currently, I am handling the case of a young woman who underwent gastric bypass surgery and developed a Petersen’s hernia, i.e., a hernia of the small intestine into the mesentery. The hernia required emergent surgical repair, but the repair was alleged to have been done incorrectly, resulting in additional surgeries, extensive loss of bowel and significant, disfiguring scarring. During the investigation of the case, it was learned that the patient’s original bypass surgeon sent letters to his patients advising of the risk of Petersen’s hernia, and, posted similar information on his website. I share that information here because of the potentially devastating consequences of delayed or improper treatment of a Petersen’s hernia:

A small percentage of patients who have undergone gastric bypass surgery will develop severe abdominal pain due to internal hernias. This condition is called a Petersen’s hernia and must be treated surgically on an emergency basis.

When patients lose a significant amount of weight, the fatty tissues in the abdomen decrease in size. In some patients, the position of the intestine can shift within the abdomen and become twisted and obstructed.

If you should develop abdominal pain you must seek medical attention immediately. Petersen’s hernia can be successfully treated and full recovery is to be expected. Time is of the essence however. If there is a delay in diagnosis and treatment beyond a few hours, there is the potential for loss of a significant portion of the small intestine and even death.

It is important that you be aware of this condition. If you develop abdominal pain, you must immediately seek medical attention and inform your physician that you have undergone gastric bypass surgery. You should also tell them that you have been informed about the potential for a Petersen’s hernia and wish to be examined by a surgeon on an emergency basis.

While the incidence of this condition is relatively low (less than 5% of patients who have undergone gastric bypass surgery), it is a serious development that must be treated very quickly.

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