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8 Common Surgery Complications

What to do to reduce your risk of these post-surgery complications.

5. Muscle Atrophy

Too much bed rest combined with too little exercise can weaken your muscles. That’s why surgeons like Kroh encourage patients to get out of bed and onto their feet as soon as possible after surgery.

“It’s very important to get up and move around,” Kroh says. That doesn’t mean go to the gym, though, even if you feel up to it (you probably won’t).

“You have to avoid lifting and straining to allow yourself to heal,” Kroh says.

People who have had abdominal surgery need to be extra cautious. Kroh advises against lifting anything over 15 pounds for at least two weeks after laparoscopic surgery, and six weeks after more invasive procedures.

Your surgeon might recommend working with a physical therapist to ease you back into everyday activities.

6. Anesthesia Effects

It may keep you from feeling pain during a procedure, but anesthesia comes with its own set of unpleasant risk factors. Most people do just fine, but some patients, particularly older patients, may wake up feeling quite confused.

More common side effects are nausea, sore throat, and sleepiness.

Anesthesia stays in your system for about 24 hours, so plan to avoid driving, making important decisions, and drinking alcohol.

Kroh says that a common concern -- and misperception -- is the possibility of waking up during a procedure. Terrifying though it may sound, it is quite rare, and, Kroh says, “Everything is done to ensure that patients have no memory of the operation.”

7. Confusion/Delirium

Most patients wake up after surgery feeling a little fuzzy, but they quickly regain their clarity as the anesthesia wears off. 

However, some patients experience a much more serious state of confusion, or delirium. This is especially common in older patients in the first week after surgery, though it may persist for weeks or even months.

8. Infection

Out of the approximately 27 million operations performed in the U.S. each year, only about 1% result in an infection, according to the CDC.

Most of those infections are minor, affecting only the skin around the surgical incision. However, serious infections can occur, and they cause approximately 8,000 deaths per year.

Particularly tough to treat are infections caused by MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), a bacteria that resists some antibiotics. In hospitals, people who have undergone surgery are the most vulnerable to such infections.

The good news is that hospitals are reporting fewer MRSA infections these days. Your best protection against infection is to make sure everything you come into contact with is clean. If that means reminding your doctor to wash his hands or the equipment he uses, don’t hesitate to do so.

Complications following surgery are often spotted before leaving the hospital. However, some complications, such as blood clots, can develop after the patient has been discharged. Kroh tells his patients to “have a low threshold” for concerns when deciding to pick up the phone and call him.

"If there’s anything you think might be abnormal or which concerns you, contact your surgeon," Kroh says. "Ninety-five percent of my patients’ concerns can be handled over the phone, but I’m happy to deal with a whole slew of minor problems if it means I’m able to catch a major problem."

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Reviewed on November 11, 2010

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