Learn about your recommended surgery. Patients who are well-informed are usually more satisfied. Meet your medical team, which will include your surgeon, who will perform your surgery, and your anesthesiologist, who will manage your comfort and care during surgery. And ask them questions about everything, from risks to complication to healing time. Your hospital may offer classes on your procedure.
X Marks the Surgical Spot
To prevent surgical errors, your nurse, surgeon, or other member of your health care team may mark the area to be operated on with a marker or pen. Ask your doctor if you should expect this with your surgery.
Ask About Anesthesia Options
The type of surgery you'll have often determines where and how you'll be numbed, but ask your anesthesiologist about your anesthesia choices. Local anesthesia numbs a small part of the body, regional numbs a larger area, and general anesthesia affects your whole body. Depending on the type of anesthesia, it can be taken by injection, IV, or inhaled.
Don't Fear Waking Up While Under Anesthesia
Coming to while under general anesthesia during surgery can happen but becoming fully aware is rare. Most people that experience anesthesia awareness do not feel any pain. Some may feel pressure. It’s estimated that about 1 to 2 out of 1,000 people who are anesthetized have some level of awareness. Awareness risks are higher during high-risk surgeries such as trauma, cardiac surgery, or emergency cesarean section, or in surgeries on unstable or critically ill patients. Talk with your anesthesiologist before surgery about concerns about awareness and after if you think it has happened to you.
Pain After Surgery -- What to Expect
You may feel pain, pressure, or a burning sensation where you were operated on and as you start moving. You may also experience throat discomfort and muscle soreness. Tell your doctor if you need pain medicine. Controlling pain can make you more comfortable, cut the risks of complication, and speed healing. Before discharge, ask about pain management options. At home, in addition to medication, relaxation tapes, heat or cold therapy, or massage may also ease pain.
Fight Hospital Infections
To lower your risk of hospital-acquired infections such as MRSA (a drug-resistant staph infection), speak up about good hygiene. Don't be shy about making sure your doctors and nurses wash their hands or sanitize them before treating you. After surgery, keep your hands clean. And watch for signs of infection including fever, chills, weakness, increased pain, swelling, redness, bleeding, and wound discharge.
Are You at Risk for Blood Clots?
Some surgeries can increase your risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and pulmonary embolism (PE). These blood clots can be life-threatening. Ask about risk and prevention. Older age, being overweight, smoking, conditions such as cancer or previous clots, and some medications can increase your risk.
Discuss Your Medical Conditions
Tell your medical team about health issues such as lung disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, dental work, arthritis, or food or drug allergies. It's also important to say if you -- or any family members -- have had a reaction to anesthesia, the medications that will be used to numb you for surgery.
Avoid Medication Mishap
Tell your doctors about all medications that you take. Some can lead to side effects during surgery. Bring up any prescription medications and over-the-counter drugs you take. For example, blood thinners and aspirin can put you at risk for excessive bleeding. Your doctor will tell you which medications you should take before your surgery and which medications to stop prior to your surgery.
Surprising Supplement Reactions
Supplements such as ginko biloba, ginseng, garlic, echinacea, fish oils, vitamins, and many more may increase surgery risks. Some may increase heart and bleeding-related risks, others may affect how long anesthesia lasts, or interact with other medicines. But up to 70% of people don't let their doctors know they take them. So speak up if you do. Your doctors may recommend stopping supplements one or two weeks before surgery.
Should You Donate Blood?
Ask your doctor if there's a chance you'll need a blood transfusion during surgery. If so, and your operation is at least four weeks away, you can donate some of your own blood and have it stored in case you need it.
Seek a Second Opinion and Ask Questions
Questions about the surgery your doctor has recommended? Unsure if it’s the right treatment for you? Don’t be afraid to get a second opinion. Getting one doesn’t offend doctors and they often encourage it. For a second opinion, look to a doctor who specializes in the treatment of your condition. If you do have surgery, speak up with your questions and concerns at any time -- before, during, and after your hospital experience.
Line Up Caregivers
You'll probably be drowsy right after your surgery, and may need a little help getting around, so ask for the support of family and friends. As you recover, let yourself be pampered and cared for and, if you need it, ask someone you trust to stay overnight with you at home.
Stock Your Pantry and Freezer
Before your surgery, stock your pantry and freezer with healthy foods and drinks. Then you won't have to worry about shopping during your recovery. Don't have time? Ask friends or family to help out. Also be sure to get any necessary personal hygiene products, bandages, or other items you'll need after your surgery.
Wear Loose Clothing
Depending on your surgery, dressing may be a challenge as you recover. Ask your doctor how surgery may affect you. If it will affect 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.
Don't Eat or Drink Before Surgery
Anesthesia can cause vomiting during or after surgery. While your body normally prevents you from inhaling food you may spit up, anesthesia can stop these reflexes from working. This can cause choking and complications after surgery like pneumonia. So make sure you follow your doctor's instructions about when to stop eating or drinking before your surgery.
Make Changes for a Better Surgery
No matter how safely it's performed, surgery involves trauma to the body. People who have healthy habits are often better able to handle it. You can't go back and relive your life, but do what you can between now and your scheduled surgery -- and then keep it up. People who prepare both physically and mentally have quicker recoveries, less pain, and fewer complications.
Limit Alcohol Before Surgery
Alcohol can have life-threatening effects during surgery. It can have unpredictable effects on anesthesia and cause excessive bleeding and liver damage. Be honest with your doctors about how much and how often you drink. Stopping drinking, or at least cutting back, can reduce your risk of postsurgical complications. Try going dry about a month before surgery. Or at most, have no more than two drinks a day.
If You Smoke…Stop
Tell your anesthesiologist if you smoke. Smoking increases infection and other surgery complication risks. Your lungs help your body get rid of inhaled anesthesia. Quitting smoking before your surgery may help you heal more quickly. Quit when you can, but it's best to try to stop at least two weeks before surgery. Nicotine replacement therapies and support groups are just a few ways to help make quitting easier.
Check Your Blood Pressure
If you have high blood pressure, make sure your medical team knows, especially your anesthesiologist. Your anesthesiologist will be responsible for monitoring your blood pressure and other vital signs during surgery. Getting your blood pressure under control before surgery is important. Ask your medical team about steps you can take. If you are on high blood pressure medication, don't forget to discuss that to see if you should take it on the day of your surgery.
Manage Your Weight and Eat Right
If you're overweight or obese, you could be at higher risk for complications. While losing weight can help your recovery, don't start dieting if your surgery is less than a month away. Instead, eat healthfully to get the nutrition you need to heal. Also tell your anesthesiologist if you have sleep apnea, which is often associated with being overweight. You may need a special anesthesia plan to help you breathe during surgery.
Exercise and Be Active
Like eating right, exercising before surgery may help you recover from surgery faster. In one study with rats, those that regularly exercised before surgery recovered much quicker than those that didn't. No matter your activity level, talk with your medical team about it before surgery. They can help you learn how you can safely be active before and after your procedure.
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