Controlling Your Diabetes After Surgery

You May Have to Work Harder to Control Diabetes During Recovery From Surgery

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Eating Well After Surgery Can Help Control Blood Glucose Levels. Image: © American Images Inc/Getty Images

For the surgery patient with diabetes, maintaining good control of blood glucose, also known as blood sugar, is extremely important.  Some diabetics may find that use more medication to control their blood glucose after surgery, this is normal.  Others may find that the routine that they used before surgery is not effective and is causing high or low glucose levels in the days and weeks immediately after surgery, which is also normal.


Be prepared to keep your healthcare providers updated on how you are doing with your diabetes management after surgery, both as a surgical patient and as a diabetic.  Your surgery can impact your diabetes and your diabetes can impact your ability to heal quickly

Plan to be more vigilant than usual during your recovery period.  You may have to check your glucose more often, adjust your medications frequently and be more aware of your carbohydrate intake than normal. This is very common after having even a minor surgical procedure. 

Why Good Control of Diabetes Is Important After Surgery

Diabetics are more likely to have complications after surgery.  As a diabetic patient, the risk of infection is higher and the rate of wound healing is often slower, even in patients that have excellent control of their diabetes.  Blood glucose (blood sugar) that is not well controlled after surgery increases these risks dramatically.


High and Low Blood Glucose After Surgery

While high glucose levels after surgery can delay wound healing and increase the risk of infection, low glucose levels aren’t healthy either.  In fact, low glucose levels can be very serious, so it is important to routinely check glucose levels until you can return to your normal diet, level of activity and you have healed from your procedure.


Signs and Symptoms of Low Blood Glucose:

  • Irritability/anger/anxiety 
  • Sweating/chills 
  • Lightheadedness/dizziness 
  • Hunger
  • Nausea 
  • Sleepiness/fatigue/weakness
  • Vision changes
  • Tingling or numbness (often around the face) 
  • Headaches 
  • Confusion

In severe cases, a diabetic with low blood glucose may become unconscious, may be stumbling or staggering when walking, and may be difficult to understand. Immediate medical attention is necessary and the person should be given a beverage, candy, glucose syrup or other food that contains high levels of sugar IF THEY ARE ABLE TO SWALLOW.

Diet and Monitoring

After surgery, a patient often eats a diet that is far different from what they were eating prior to surgery.  The day before surgery they may be told not to eat at all, after surgery they may not feel well enough to eat, or may be on a clear liquid diet until graduating to a full diet.  These types of changes in calorie intake and the types of foods being eaten will affect blood glucose levels, and will likely require adjustments in medication as well as how often blood glucose is checked.


Checking blood glucose frequently is often a part of the recovery process, as too much medication with too little food can cause blood glucose levels to be too low.

Stress Can Increase Blood Glucose

Stress of any kind can cause an increase in blood glucose.  Whether it is good (your child is getting married) or bad (the loss of a loved one) or physical (having surgery) or fear (riding a roller coaster) you may find that stress does strange things to you blood glucose level.  This is one reason that many surgery patients experience high glucose levels during their recovery.

Medications Can Increase Blood Glucose

Steroids are notorious for increasing blood glucose.  Systemic steroids, given as a pill or an injection, can cause dramatic effects on glucose. Inhaled steroids, which are found in breathing treatments, can also cause high glucose levels but the effects are typically not as severe. 

Diabetics Who Control With Diet and Exercise

Don’t be surprised if your normal routine of eating right and exercising regularly are not enough to control your diabetes during your recovery.  While this may be annoying, it usually improves dramatically during the weeks after recovery and most patients return to their normal diabetes program quickly.  

Diabetes Treatment as an Inpatient

Even if you don’t use insulin to control your diabetes at home, you may be given insulin during your hospital stay.  Don’t worry, this is standard practice and will allow your glucose level to be better controlled than it would be otherwise.  Your oral medications and long acting insulin, if you take them, may be stopped as well.  Typically, patients blood glucose levels are checked with each meal and at bedtime, and insulin provided as needed.  If your glucose is proving hard to control during your hospitalization, more frequent checks may be used, or in some cases, an insulin IV may be used. 

Surgical Wound Healing and Diabetes

As a diabetic, wound care will be very important after surgery.  Frequent wound checks should be done to make sure the wound is healing properly and to check for signs of infection.  


Perioperative Diabetes Management Guidelines.  Australian Diabetes Society.  Accessed September, 2015.

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