High Blood Sugar Levels After Surgery

How Diabetes and Blood Glucose Levels Can Affect Your Surgery Outcome

doctor talking to patient, surgeon talking to patient
Talk to Your Doctor About Your Diabetes. Hero Images/Getty Images

If you are diabetic, you may be concerned about your blood glucose levels during surgery and later during your recovery.  It is reasonable to be concerned, and it is appropriate to take steps to prepare to control glucose levels before, during and after surgery.  When recovering from surgery and in normal day to day life, control of glucose levels makes a significant impact on your feeling of wellbeing, making it worth your time and energy to control your diabetes as well as is possible.

Even non-diabetics can experience issues with blood sugar (glucose) levels after a procedure.  The physical and emotional stress of a surgical procedure, along with what can be significant changes in lifestyle, diet and exercise before and after surgery, can dramatically change an individuals glucose levels.  

Here's an important fact: a high blood glucose level after surgery can increase your chances of having a wound infection from less than 2% to over 10%.  

Here's another important fact: all patients are at risk for high blood sugar (glucose) after surgery, not just diabetics, but diabetics face even greater risks of complications after a procedure.

You see, stress increases blood sugar levels.  Now when I say stress I don't mean "my boss irritates me, the dog pooped on the carpet, the kids are being bad and I need to make dinner" stress.  I'm talking about physical stress, such as having surgery performed on your body.

 Ok, backup... both of these kinds of stress can actually increase blood sugar levels, during and after surgery.

Blood Sugar and Surgical Complications

Here is the simple fact: uncontrolled blood glucose is bad for surgery patients.   Blood sugar that is too high can lead to wound infections, delayed healing and, for some patients, open the door for bigger complications.

 In general, the higher the blood sugar, the higher the risk. 

Multiple scientific studies have determined that even slightly elevated blood sugar levels can delay healing.  Glucose levels greater than 200 dramatically increase the chances of serious complications. 

So, what's a good diabetic surgery patient to do?

First, make sure your doctor has your blood sugar checked before meals and at bedtime while you are in the hospital if you are diabetic.  Checking your glucose during surgery is reasonable if the surgery is a lengthy one or if glucose levels have been unpredictable.

Even diabetics who are normally well controlled with diet and exercise can experience high levels of blood glucose in the hours and days following surgery.  If your glucose is fluctuating widely between checks, you may even need to have it checked during the night or on an "as needed" basis if you are having symptoms of low or high blood glucose.

If you are having a same day surgery, have your blood glucose level checked before you leave the facility.  If you are diabetic, you may want to test more frequently once you are home until your wound is completely healed.

Second, controlling your diet and participating in exercise--as appropriate for your recovery--will play a major role in diabetes management, just as it did before surgery.


Controlling Diabetes After Surgery

Your diabetes needs to be controlled very well after surgery to prevent complications such as wound infections, slow healing and increased scarring. Even if your track record of taking care of yourself, taking your medications as prescribed and routinely checking your glucose level is poor, the recovery phase after surgery is not the time to continue this self destructive pattern.  

Eating appropriate foods after surgery, frequently checking your glucose level and taking your insulin or other diabetes medications as prescribed are essential to a quick and healthy recovery from surgery.

Exercise is an important part of recovery for diabetics and non-diabetics alike, and will help control glucose levels.  Your surgeon will be the best judge of what type of physical activity is possible after surgery, and how quickly you can attempt more strenuous exercise during your recovery. 

A Word From VeryWell

Diabetes can be challenging to deal with, and that is particularly true when recovering from surgery.  It is worth the time and effort to control glucose levels--both after surgery and as a routine--to maintain good health and wellbeing. Healing faster and avoiding infection is a bonus during the post-operative period, but living longer and feeling better is absolutely a worthwhile goal for every day.

More Information: Diabetes and Surgery


Hyperglycemia and Hypoglycemia in Type 2 Diabetes.  NIH. Accessed September, 2017. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0072694/

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