Common Complications and Concerns After Surgery

Watch Out for These Ten Potential Problems After Surgery

Female doctor talking to female patient lying in hospital bed
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Many people are so focused on having a successful procedure that they tend to forget that the hard work of healing starts after the surgery. Recovering from surgery, in many ways, is the hardest part of the entire process. You may experience problems or you may be unsure about the instructions you have been given. You may wonder if what you are experiencing is normal after a surgical procedure, or if what is happening is a true postoperative complication.

While some things are very normal after surgery and will typically pass after a few days (such as a sore throat), it's important to remember that if it feels like an emergency, you should contact your surgeon or seek immediate medical attention at the emergency room.

Why Can’t I Urinate?

Some patients experience difficulty urinating after surgery or even a burning sensation. A very select few have a complete inability to empty their bladder. This can happen as the result of anesthesia, the use of a urinary catheter (such as a Foley catheter), or the combination of the two. Urinary tract infections are more common after having a catheter, and may also produce a burning sensation.

How Do I Do Incision Care?

Incision care may seem like a difficult task, but it truly is not as hard as you might think. The key is to start by washing your hands well. After that infection-preventing measure, the actual dressing change is straightforward.

Luckily for surgical patients, many wounds don't even require a dressing, they are left uncovered to allow air to get to the incision site. If you are not comfortable dressing your surgical site, ask a nurse to teach a loved one or partner, so they can assist you at home. 

Do I Have an Infection?

What does a normal incision look like and what does an infected incision look like?

It can be hard to tell when both can be red, tender, and look rather irritated. Your doctor will have the final word on whether your incision is healing the way it should, but there are some signs and symptoms that clearly indicate an infection is present -- these include the development of redness, pain, swelling, or discharge (especially if thick and yellow) at the incision site, or a fever. 

Why Am I Constipated?

You are told not to eat before surgery. So you may wonder how you end up constipated? It's usually a combination of factors including pain medication, anesthesia, the stress of surgery, inactivity, and dehydration. But you can take an active role in preventing and treating your constipation by drinking fluids and eating a healthy diet rich in fiber right after surgery. 

Why Do I Have a Sore Throat?

Many patients end up with a sore throat after having surgery, yet they don’t understand what caused it. It's common to hear patients say things like, "I had surgery on my hip, so why do I have a sore throat?" Well, there is a common cause for his post-surgery ailment -- the breathing tube you had placed during the surgery.

Help, I’m Having Surgical Pain

Pain is a commonly dreaded consequence of surgery. But the good news is that with pain medication prescribed by your surgeon and other strategies like rest, a slow increase in physical activity, and relaxation, you can minimize your post-surgical pain and get through this tough time. The key is staying on top of your pain management before it gets out of control. In other words, don't tough it out. Adequate pain control will also help you heal faster. 

Depression After Surgery

Unfortunately, depression is not uncommon among surgery patients. Depression may have been there before the surgery, or it may have been worsened by post-surgical pain or by limitation of activity after surgery.

Identifying depression is the first step to obtaining meaningful treatment. Symptoms may range from feeling blue to having thoughts of suicide. Depression can also cause irritability or a change in sleep and appetite patterns, which can be sometimes tricky to distinguish from expected changes after having surgery. Be sure to seek help if  you or a loved one is experiencing symptoms of depression. 

Fever After Surgery

Patients often wonder whether fever after surgery is normal. A fever is not necessarily abnormal. But whether or not your fever is cause for significant concern is truly a judgment call by your physician -- so check-in with your doctor.

Can I Take a Bath? Swim?

After your surgery, you may be itching to take a bath or perhaps hop into a swimming pool. But, there are guidelines for when you should soak and when you need to wait a while longer, and your incision is typically the deciding factor. It's best to talk this over with your doctor prior to the surgery, so there are no surprises. 

My Incision Is Opening!

Very few things are as alarming to a surgical patient as looking at their incision and realizing it is opening up. That can range from a very small parting of the incision all the way up to dehiscence and evisceration, a condition where the incision opens and organs begin to protrude. Be sure to report opening of your incision to your surgeon right away. 

Sources:

Incision Care. FamilyDoctor.org http://familydoctor.org/online/famdocen/home/healthy/firstaid/after-injury/095.html

Incision Care After Surgery. Kaiser Permanente http://members.kaiserpermanente.org/kpweb/healthency.do?hwid=tc4128spec

Post-op Instructions: Taking Care of Yourself After Your Operation. National Institutes of Health http://www.cc.nih.gov/ccc/patient_education/pepubs/postop.pdf

Postoperative Patient Care. Nursing Fundamentals. http://www.brooksidepress.org/Products/Nursing_Fundamentals_II/lesson_8_Section_4.htm

DISCLAIMER: The information in this site is for educational purposes only. It should not be used as a substitute for personal care by a licensed physician. Please see your doctor for diagnosis and treatment of any concerning symptoms or medical condition.

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