Learn about your surgery and meet with your medical team. Talk to your surgeon and the expert who manages your comfort and care during the operation, your anesthesiologist. Ask them questions about everything, from risks to healing time. Your hospital may offer classes that also can teach you about your procedure.
To prevent mistakes, your doctor or nurse may use a pen to mark the place on your body where you're going have your surgery. Ask your surgeon if you should expect this with your operation.
How you'll be numbed during the operation often depends on the type of surgery you're getting. Ask your anesthesiologist about your choices.
"Local" anesthesia numbs a small part of you, "regional" works on a larger area, and "general" affects your whole body.
You inhale some types of anesthesia, while others you get by an injection or through a vein (IV).
Coming to while under general anesthesia can happen, but it's rare to become fully aware. Most people that this happens to do not feel any pain. Talk with your anesthesiologist before your surgery if you have any concerns, or if you think it's happened to you before.
You may feel pain, pressure, or a burning sensation where you were operated on and as you start moving. Your muscles might be sore, and your throat may be uncomfortable.
Tell your doctor if you need pain medicine while you're in the hospital. And ask what your options are for relief when you get home. Besides medication, relaxation tapes, heat or cold therapy, or massage may also help.
After surgery, keep your hands clean. And don't be shy about making sure your doctors and nurses wash their hands or sanitize them before treating you. It can help keep you from catching infections like MRSA, a germ that's hard to treat.
Some surgeries can raise your chances of getting a dangerous blood clot called a deep vein thrombosis (DVT). These can travel to the lungs and block blood flow, a condition called a pulmonary embolism (PE). This can be deadly, but quick treatment can save your life.
Older age, being overweight, smoking, conditions such as cancer or previous clots, and some medications can raise your risk.
Tell your doctor if you have any health issues, including heart or lung disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, dental work, arthritis, or drug allergies.
Also tell him if you or anyone in your family has had a reaction to anesthesia.
Tell your doctor about all the medicine you take. Some can lead to side effects during surgery. For example, blood thinners and aspirin can put you at risk for too much bleeding.
Your doctor will tell you which medications you should take before your surgery and which ones to stop.
Many supplements, such as ginkgo biloba, ginseng, garlic, echinacea, fish oils, or vitamins, may be risky to take before surgery. For instance, some may raise the chance of heart problems or bleeding. Others may affect how long anesthesia lasts or mix badly with other medicines, causing unexpected side effects. Your doctor may tell you to stop taking them 1 or 2 weeks before surgery.
Ask your doctor if there's a chance you'll need a blood transfusion during surgery. If so, and your operation is at least 4 weeks away, you may be able to donate blood and have some of it stored in case you need it.
Are you unsure if surgery is right for you? Don't be afraid to get another doctor's view. Look for someone who specializes in treating your condition.
You may need a little help getting around after surgery, so ask your family and friends for support. As you recover, let yourself be pampered and cared for. And for the first evening, be sure there’s a responsible adult who can stay overnight with you at home.
Before your surgery, make sure you have plenty of healthy foods and drinks in your house. That way you won't have to worry about shopping during your recovery.
Don't have time? Ask friends or family to help out.
Dressing can sometimes be a challenge as you recover. If your surgery affects your movement, look for soft, loose clothes that are easy to put on and take off. Elastic-waist or loose-fitting pants and shirts that button, rather than pullovers, may be easiest to wear.
Anesthesia can cause vomiting during or after an operation. Your body normally prevents you from inhaling food you spit up, but anesthesia can stop these reflexes from working. This can cause choking and other complications after surgery. So make sure you follow your doctor's instructions about when to stop eating or drinking.
People with healthy habits are often better able to handle surgery. Ask your doctor what you can do to get in better shape between now and your operation -- and then keep it up. People who prepare both physically and mentally are likely to have quicker recoveries, less pain, and fewer complications.
Drinking can have unpredictable effects on anesthesia and cause other problems, such as too much bleeding or liver damage. Be honest with your doctors about how much and how often you drink. Stop drinking, or at least cut back, to help lower your risk of complications from surgery.
Smoking raises your risks of infections and other surgery complications. Quitting before your surgery may also help you heal more quickly.
It's best to stop at least 2 weeks before surgery. Nicotine replacement treatments and support groups are just a couple of ways to help make quitting easier.
If you have high blood pressure, make sure your medical team knows. It's important to get it under control before surgery. Ask your doctor about steps you can take.
If you're on high blood pressure medication, don't forget to ask if you should take it on the day of your surgery.
Eat healthy foods to get the nutrition you need to heal. If you're overweight or obese, you could be at higher risk for complications. While losing some pounds can help your recovery, don't start dieting without your doctor's OK if your surgery is less than a month away.
Doing so before surgery may help you recover faster. No matter your activity level, talk to your doctor about it. He can help you learn how you can safely be active before and after your procedure.
Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on March 13, 2015
This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information
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