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Vertical Banded Gastroplasty

Vertical banded gastroplasty


Vertical banded gastroplasty, or VBG, is an elective surgical procedure in which the stomach is partitioned with staples and fitted with a plastic band to limit the amount of food that the stomach can hold at one time. Gastroplasty is a term that comes from two Greek words, gaster or "stomach," and plassein, "to form or shape." "Stomach stapling," also known as VBG, is part of a relatively new surgical subspecialty called bariatric surgery. The word "bariatric" is also derived from two Greek words, barys, which means "heavy," and iatros, which means "healer." A restrictive bariatric procedure, VBG controls the amount of food that the stomach can holdin contrast to malabsorptive surgeries, in which the food is rerouted within the digestive tract to prevent complete absorption of the nutrients in the food.


The purpose of VBG is the treatment of morbid (unhealthy) obesity. It is one of the first successful procedures in bariatric surgery. VBG was developed in its present form in 1982 by Dr. Edward E. Mason, a professor of surgery at the University of Iowa.

Bariatric surgery in general is important in the management of severe obesity because it is the only one as of 2003 that has demonstrated long-term success in the majority of patients. Weight reduction diets, exercise programs, and appetite suppressant medications have had a very low long-term success rate in managing morbid obesity. Most people who try to lose weight on reduced-calorie diets regain two-thirds of the weight lost within one year; within five years, they have gained more weight in addition to all the weight they had lost previously. Appetite suppressants often have undesirable or harmful side effects as well as having a low rate of long-term effectiveness; in 1997 the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned the sale of fenfluramine and phentermine ("fen-phen") when they were discovered to cause damage to heart valves.

Obesity is a major health problem not only because it is widespread in the American populationas of 2003, 33% of adults in the United States meet the National Institutes of Health (NIH) criteria for obesitybut because it greatly increases a person's risk of developing potentially life-threatening disorders. Obesity is associated with type 2 (non-insulin-dependent) diabetes, hypertension, abnormal blood cholesterol levels, liver disease, coronary artery disease, sleep apnea syndrome, and certain types of cancer. In addition to these disorders, obesity is a factor in what have been called lifestyle-limiting conditions. These conditions are not life-threatening, but they can have a great impact on a people's day-to-day lives, particularly in their relationships and in the working world. Lifestyle-limiting conditions related to obesity include osteoarthritis and gout; urinary stress incontinence; heartburn; skin disorders caused by heavy perspiration accumulating in folds of skin; leg swelling and varicose veins; gallstones; and abdominal hernias. Obese women frequently suffer from irregular menstrual periods and infertility. Finally, societal prejudice against obese people is widespread and frequently mentioned as a source of acute psychological distress. Surgical treatment of obesity has been demonstrated to relieve emotional pain as well as to reduce risks to the patient's physical health.


Like other procedures in bariatric surgery, VBG is performed only on patients who are severely or morbidly obese by NIH standards. Severe obesity is presently defined as a body mass index (BMI) of 35 or higher. Nonetheless, it is the epidemic with the greatest prevalence in the United States as of 2003. One out of every 20 adults, or 15 million people, have a BMI greater than 35.

At present, few figures are available regarding the number of VBGs performed in the United States each year compared with other types of obesity surgery. The International Bariatric Surgery Registry (IBSR) at the University of Iowa is presently compiling a database to monitor the outcomes of different procedures and to analyze statistical data about patients undergoing obesity surgery. In 2000, the IBSR analyzed data on a group of 14,641 people who had had obesity surgery as of 1998. The patients weighed an average of 280 lb (127 kg) at the time of surgery and had an average BMI of 46. Slightly less than 20% of the patients had BMIs between 35 and 39.9; 76.1% had BMIs of 40 or higher.


There are two major types of VBGopen, which is the older of the two procedures; and the laparoscopic VBG, which is performed through very small incisions, with the help of special instruments.

Open vertical banded gastroplasty

The open VBG is done under general anesthesia. In most cases, it takes one to two hours to perform. The surgeon makes an incision several inches long in the patient's upper abdomen. After cutting through the layers of tissue over the stomach, the surgeon cuts a hole or "window" into the upper part of the stomach a few inches below the esophagus. The second step involves placing a line of surgical staples from the window in the direction of the esophagus, which creates a small pouch at the upper end of the stomach. The surgeon must measure the size of this pouch very carefully; when completed, it is about 10% of the size of a normal stomach and will hold about a tablespoon of solid food.

After forming the pouch and checking its size, the surgeon takes a band made out of polypropylene plastic and fits it through the window around the outlet of the stomach pouch. The vertical band is then stitched into place. Because the polypropylene does not stretch, it holds food in the stomach longer, which allows the patient to feel full on only a small amount of food.

Following the placement of the band, the surgeon will check to make sure that there is no leakage around the window and the line of surgical staples. The area of surgery will then be washed out with a sterile saline solution and the incision closed.

Laparoscopic vertical banded gastroplasty

A laparoscopic vertical banded gastroplasty, or LVBG, is performed with the help of a bariatric laparoscope. A laparoscope is a small (10 mm in diameter) tube that holds a fiberoptic cable that allows the surgeon to view the inside of the abdominal cavity on a high-resolution video screen and record the operation on a video recorder. In a laparoscopic VBG, the surgeon makes three small incisions on the left side of the abdomen for inserting the laparoscope, and a fourth incision about 2.5 in (14 cm) long on the right side. The formation of the stomach pouch and insertion of the plastic band are done through these small incisions. Because it is more difficult for the surgeon to maneuver the instruments through the small openings, an LVBG takes longer than an open VBG, about two to four hours.

A laparoscopic VBG requires that the surgeon spend more training and practice than with an open VBG. As of 2003, about 90% of VBGs performed in the United States are done as open procedures. In the event of complications developing during a laparoscopic VBG, the surgeon usually completes the operation using the open procedure.



determination of obesity. The diagnosis of a patient for bariatric surgery begins with measuring the degree of the patient's obesity. This measurement is crucial because the NIH and almost all health insurers have established specific limits for approval of bariatric procedures.

The obesity guidelines that are cited most often were drawn up by Milliman and Robertson, a nationally recognized company that establishes medical need for a wide variety of procedures for health insurers. The Milliman and Robertson criteria for a patient to qualify for weight loss surgery are as follows:

  • be least 100 lb (45 kg) over ideal weight, as defined by life insurance tables; have a BMI of 40 or higher; or have a BMI over 35 with a coexisting serious medical condition (for example: severe diabetes or coronary artery disease)
  • demonstrate failure to lose or regain of weight despite having tried a multidisciplinary weight control program
  • have another cause of obesity, such as an endocrine disorder
  • have attained full adult growth

The patient must be treated not only by a doctor with special training in obesity surgery, but in a comprehensive program that includes preoperative psychological screening and medical examination; nutritional counseling; exercise counseling; and participation in support groups

There are several ways to measure obesity. Some are based on the relationship between a person's height and weight. The older measurements of this correlation are the so-called "height-weight" tables that listed desirable weights for a given height. The limitation of height-weight tables is that they do not distinguish between weight of human fatty tissue and weight of lean muscle tissuemany professional athletes and body builders are overweight by the standards of these tables. A more accurate measurement of obesity is body mass index, or BMI. The BMI is an indirect measurement of the amount of body fat. The BMI is calculated in English measurements by multiplying a person's weight in pounds by 703.1, then dividing that number by the person's height in inches squared. A BMI between 19 and 24 is considered normal; 2529 is overweight; 3034 is moderately obese; 3539 is severely obese; and 40 or higher is defined as morbidly obese.

More direct methods of measuring body fat include measuring the thickness of the skinfold at the back of the upper arm, and bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA). Bioelectrical impedance measures the total amount of water in the body, using a special instrument that calculates the different degrees of resistance to a mild electrical current in different types of body tissue. Fatty tissue has a higher resistance to the current than body tissues containing larger amounts of water. A higher percentage of body water indicates a greater amount of lean tissue.

psychological evaluation. Psychiatric and psychological screening before a VBG is done to evaluate the patient's emotional stability and to ensure the expectations of the results of weight loss are not unrealistic. Because of social prejudice against obesity, some obese people who have felt isolated from others or suffered job discrimination come to think of weight loss surgery as a magical or quick solution to all the problems in their lives. In addition, the surgeon will want to make sure that the patient understands the long-term lifestyle adjustments that are necessary after surgery, and that the patient is committed to making those changes. A third reason for a psychological assessment before a VBG is to determine whether the patient's eating habits are compulsive; these would be characterized by the persistent and irresistible impulse to eat with unknown or unconscious purpose. Compulsive eating is not a reason for not having weight loss surgery, but it does mean that the psychological factors contributing to the patient's obesity will also require treatment.

other tests and examinations. Patients must have a complete physical examination and blood tests before being considered for a VBG. Some bariatric surgeons will not accept patients with histories of major psychiatric illness; alcohol or drug abuse; previous abdominal surgery; or collagen vascular diseases, which include systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) and rheumatoid arthritis. Many will not accept patients younger than 16 or older than 55, although some surgeons report successful VBGs in patients over 70. In any event, the patient will need to provide documentation of physical condition, particularly comorbid diseases or disorders, to their insurance company.


Preparation for bariatric surgery requires more attention to certain matters than most other forms of surgery requiring hospitalization.

health insurance issues. Both bariatric surgeons and people who have had weight loss surgery report that obtaining preauthorization for a VBG from insurance companies is a lengthy, complicated, and frequently frustrating process. Insurance companies tend to reflect the prejudices against obese people that exist in the wider society. Although this situation is slowly changing because of increasingly widespread recognition of the high costs of obesity-related diseases, people considering a VBG should start early to secure approval for their operation. The American Obesity Association (AOA) has a pamphlet entitled, Weight Management and Health Insurance, a useful guide to the process of getting coverage for weight loss surgery. The pamphlet is available for free download from the AOA Web site.

lifestyle changes. A VBG requires a period of recovery at home after discharge from the hospital . Since the patient's physical mobility will be limited, the following should be done before the operation:

  • Arrange for leave from work, assistance at home, help with driving, and similar tasks and commitments.
  • Obtain a handicapped parking permit.
  • Check the house or apartment thoroughly for needed adjustments to furniture, appliances, lighting, and personal conveniences; specific recommendations include the purchase of a shower chair and toilet seat lift. People recovering from bariatric surgery must minimize bending, stooping, and any risk of falling. There are good guides available written by people who have had weight loss surgery that describe household safety and comfort considerations in further detail.
  • Stock up on prescription medications, nonperishable groceries, cleaning supplies, and similar items to minimize shopping. Food items should include plenty of clear liquids (juices, broth, soups) and soft foods (oat-meal and other cooked cereals, gelatin dessert mixes).
  • Have a supply of easy-care clothing with elastic waistbands and simple fasteners. Shoes should be slip-ons or fastened with Velcro.
  • Take "before" photographs prior to the operation, and make a written record of body measurements. These should include measurements of the neck, waist, wrist, widest part of hips, bust or chest, knees, and ankles, as well as shoe size. The preoperation photographs and measurements help to document the rate and amount of weight lost. Patients who have had weight loss surgery also point out that these records serve to boost morale by allowing the patient to measure progress in losing weight after the surgery.

pre-operation classes and support groups. In line with the Milliman and Robertson guidelines, most bariatric surgeons now have "preop" classes and ongoing support groups for patients scheduled for VBG and other types of bariatric surgery. Facilitators of these classes can answer questions regarding preparation for the operation and what to expect during recovery, particularly about changes in eating patterns. In addition, they provide opportunities for patients to share concerns and experiences. Patients who have attended group meetings for weight loss surgery often report that simply sharing accounts of the effects of severe obesity on their lives strengthened their resolve to have the operation. In addition, clinical studies indicate that patients who have attended preop classes are less anxious before surgery and generally recover more rapidly.

medical preparation. Patients scheduled for a gastroplasty are advised to eat lightly the day before surgery. The surgeon will provide specific instructions about taking medications prescribed for other health conditions. The patient will be given preoperation medications that usually include a laxative to clear the lower digestive tract, an anti-nausea drug, and an antibiotic to lower the risk of infection. Some surgeons ask patients to shower on the morning of their surgery with a special antiseptic skin cleanser.


Aftercare following a gastroplasty has long-term as well as short-term aspects.

Short-term aftercare

Patients who have had an open VBG usually remain in the hospital for four to five days after surgery; those who have had a laparoscopic VBG may return home after two to three days. Aftercare in the hospital typically includes:

  • Pain medication. After returning from surgery, patients are given a patient-controlled anesthesia, or PCA device. The PCA is a small pump that delivers a dose of medication into the IV when the patient pushes a button.
  • Clear fluids. Inpatient food is limited to a liquid diet following a VBG.
  • Oxygen treatment and breathing exercises to get the patient's lungs back into shape. Patients are encouraged to get out of bed and walk around as soon as possible to prevent pneumonia.
  • Regular change of surgical dressings. Patients may be given additional dressings for use at home, if needed.

Long-term aftercare

Long-term aftercare includes several adjustments to the patient's lifestyle:

  • Slow progression from consuming foods and liquids to eating a normal diet. For the first two weeks after surgery, the patient is limited to liquids and foods that have been pureed in a blender. The reintroduction of solid foods takes place gradually over several months. In addition, patients sometimes have unpredictable reactions to specific foods; most of these resolve over time.
  • Lifelong changes in eating habits. Patients who have had a VBG must learn to chew food thoroughly and to eat slowly to reduce the risk of nausea and vomiting. They must also be careful to avoid eating too many soft foods or sweets, to reduce the risk of regaining weight.
  • A minimum of five years of follow-up visits to the surgeon to monitor weight maintenance and other health concerns. Patients considering bariatric surgery should choose a surgeon with whom they feel comfortable, as they are making a long-term commitment to aftercare with this professional.
  • Ongoing support group meetings to deal with the physical and psychological aftereffects of surgery and weight loss.
  • Beginning and maintaining an appropriate exercise program.


Patients who undergo a VBG are at risk for some of the same complications that may follow any major operation, including death, pulmonary embolism, the formation of blood clots in the deep veins of the leg, and infection of the surgical incision. These risks are increased for severely obese patients; for example, the risk of infection is about 10% for obese patients compared to 2% for patients of normal weight. With specific regard to VBGs, recent studies indicate that the risks of complications after surgery are about the same for open and laparoscopic VBGs.

Specific risks of VBGs

Specific risks associated with vertical banded gastroplasty include:

  • Incisional hernia. An incisional hernia is the protrusion of a loop or piece of tissue through a reopened incision. It results from the stress placed on the stitches holding the incision closed in extremely obese patients. Most can be repaired by resuturing the incision. Incisional hernias are more likely to occur with open VBGs than with laparoscopic procedures.
  • Dehiscence. Dehiscence is the medical term for splitting open; it can occur in a VBG if the staples forming the pouch at the upper end of the stomach come loose.
  • Nausea and vomiting. Nausea and vomiting usually result from eating more food than the stomach pouch can hold, or eating the food too quickly. In most cases, the vomiting disappears as the patient learns different eating habits.
  • Formation of a stricture at the site of the plastic band. A stricture is an abnormal narrowing of a body canal or opening. It is also called a stenosis.
  • Damage to the spleen. The spleen lies very close to the stomach and can be injured in the process of bariatric surgery. In most cases it can be repaired during the operation.

Long-term risks

The long-term risks of vertical banded gastroplasty include:

  • Regaining weight. Patients who have had a VBG are more likely to regain lost weight than those who have had gastric bypass surgery. This is partly because the patient's digestive tract continues to absorb nutrients in food in normal fashion. Because the stomach pouch in a VBG is small, many patients are tempted to eat ice cream and high-calorie liquids that pass quickly through the pouch. A 10-year follow-up study of 70 patients who had had a VBG found that only 20% (14) of the patients had lost and kept off the loss of 50% of their excess body weight.
  • Ongoing vomiting and heartburn. About 20% of patients with VBGs report long-term digestive difficulties.
  • Psychological problems. Some people have difficulty adjusting to the changes in their outward appearance and to others' changed reactions to them. Others experience feelings of depression, which are thought to be related to biochemical changes resulting from the weight loss.

Normal results

The most rapid weight loss following a VBG takes place in the first six months. It usually takes between 18 and 24 months after the operation for patients to lose 50% of their excess body weight, which is the measurement used to define success in bariatric surgery. At this point, most patients feel much better physically and psychologically; diabetes, high blood pressure, urinary stress incontinence, and other complications associated with severe obesity have either improved or completely resolved.

The primary drawback of VBG is its relatively high rate of failure in maintaining the patient's weight loss over a five-year period. For this reason, some bariatric surgeons recommend VBGs for patients at the lower end of the severe obesity spectrumthose with BMIs between 35 and 40. The chief advantage of VBGs over malabsorptive types of weight loss surgery is that there is little risk of malnutrition or vitamin deficiencies.

Although bariatric surgeons advise patients to wait for two years after a VBG to have plastic surgery procedures, it is not unusual for patients to require operations to remove excess skin from the upper arms, abdomen, and other parts of the body that had large accumulations of fatty tissue.

Morbidity and mortality rates

According to the American Society of Bariatric Surgery, mortality following a VBG is about 5%. The rates of postsurgical complications are about 6% for leaks leading to infection and a need to reoperate; 4% for dehiscence; 1% for injury to the spleen; and 1% for pulmonary embolisms.


Established surgical alternatives

The primary restrictive alternative to a VBG is implanting a Lap-Band, which is an adjustable band that the surgeon positions around the upper end of the stomach to form the small pouch instead of using staples. The Lap-Band was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in the United States in 2001. It can be implanted with the laparoscopic technique. When the band is in place, it is inflated with saline solution. It can be tightened or loosened after the operation through a portal under the skin. Although the Lap-Band eliminates the risk of dehiscence, it produces such side effects as vomiting, heartburn, abdominal cramps, or enlargement of the stomach pouch due to the band's slipping out of place. In one American study, 25% of patients eventually had the band removed.

The other major type of obesity surgery combines restriction of the size of the stomach with a malabsorptive approach. The combination surgery that is considered the safest and performed most frequently in the United States is the Roux-en-Y gastric bypass. In this procedure, the surgeon forms a stomach pouch and then divides the small intestine, connecting one part of it to the new pouch and reconnecting the other portion to the intestines at some distance from the stomach. The food bypasses the section of the stomach and the small intestine, where most nutrients are absorbed. The procedure takes its name from Cesar Roux, a Swiss surgeon who first performed it, and the "Y" shape formed by the reconnected intestines.

Experimental procedures

A newer technique in obesity surgery is known as gastric pacing. In gastric pacing, the surgeon implants electrodes in the muscle of the stomach wall that deliver a mild electrical current. These electrical impulses regulate the pace of stomach contractions so that the patient feels full on smaller amounts of food. Preliminary results from a team of Italian researchers on patients followed since 1995 indicate that gastric pacing is both safe and effective.



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A VBG is performed in a hospital whether the operation is an open or a laparoscopic gastroplasty. It is done by a bariatric surgeon, who is a medical doctor (MD) or doctor of osteopathy (DO) who has completed at least three years' training in general surgery after medical school and internship. Most bariatric surgeons have had additional training in gastrointestinal or biliary surgery before completing a fellowship in bariatric surgery with an experienced practitioner in this subspecialty. Because laparoscopic VBGs require more experience on the surgeon's part and take longer to perform, there are fewer surgeons who perform laparoscopic procedures. A survey done in 2000 by the American Society for Bariatric Surgery (ASBS) found that about 90% of bariatric surgeons perform open VBGs; only about 10% use the laparoscopic technique.

In addition to demonstrating the technical skills necessary to perform a VBG, bariatric surgeons seeking hospital privileges must show that they are competent to provide the psychological and nutritional assessments and counseling included in weight loss surgery programs.


  • Do I meet the eligibility criteria for bariatric surgery?
  • Would you recommend a vertical banded gastroplasty (VBG) for me, or a gastric bypass operation?
  • Am I a candidate for a laparoscopic VBG?
  • How long have you been practicing bariatric surgery?
  • How many VBGs do you perform each year?

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stomach stapling

stomach stapling (gastric stapling, vertical banded gastroplasty) n. bariatric surgery in which staples are inserted into the wall of the stomach to form a small pouch, which restricts the amount of food that can be eaten, and a gastric band is applied to limit the size of the opening between the pouch and the rest of the stomach.

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