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Common Problems Patients Face in the Hospital

Understand your hospital risks and ask these vital questions -- to keep those risks in check.

Hospital Risk No. 2: MRSA and Other Hospital-Acquired Infections

Another top hospital risk is infection with bacteria or a virus. Hospitals are loaded with nasty bugs. According to the CDC, there are 1.7 million health-care-associated infections every year; 22% are infections of surgical wounds. Even more -- 32% -- are urinary tract infections. The rest are infections of the lungs, blood, and other parts of the body.

One of the most frightening hospital infections you can pick up is MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) -- a type of staph infection that's resistant to many antibiotics. A 2007 study by the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC)suggested that almost one out of every 20 hospital patients is either infected with MRSA or carries it.

"The risk of MRSA is growing," says Clancy. "It's getting more common and more resistant to antibiotics."

So what can you do? First, ask whether you'll be getting antibiotics before and after surgery to lower your risk. Then after surgery, the best protection is simple: don't let people touch you until you have seen them wash their hands. That goes for everyone -- including doctors and nurses.

Now of course, you might feel intimidated by the idea of scolding your doctor for his bad hygiene. But experts say that your doctor or nurse shouldn't have any problem with it -- especially if you ask nicely.

Hospital Risk No. 3: Pneumonia

Although some might think of pneumonia as a minor complication, it can be quite serious. After urinary tract infections and wound infections, it's the most common hospital acquired infection. According to the CDC, estimates of hospital pneumonia's mortality rate are as high as 33%. It's most common in people who are in the intensive care unit or on ventilators.

Pneumonia is a common hospital risk after surgery for several reasons. During recovery, you might naturally take shallow breaths, since you're on your back and breathing deeply may be painful. After surgery, many people also have a partial collapse of the lung tissue -- called alectasis -- which further weakens lung function. All of this can make it easier for bugs that cause pneumonia to gain a foothold.

So what are some ways to avoid this hospital risk? Deep breathing is one. "I recommend that people try to take 10 to 15 really big breaths every hour," says Angood. If you smoke, you should quit or at least stop for a week or two before surgery, says Clancy. Just a short break can make a big difference in the health of your lungs.

Aspiration pneumonia has a more specific cause. It develops when you breathe in fluids, like vomit. This can happen after anesthesia because your normal coughing reflexes may be suppressed. The best way to avoid this type of pneumonia is to follow your doctor's advice about not eating or drinking after midnight the day before your surgery. If you don't have anything in your stomach to vomit up, the danger of aspiration pneumonia is quite low.

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