Common Medications Before, During, and After Surgery

Drugs Commonly Used For Surgery

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The surgery drugs commonly used before, during and after procedures vary widely from patient to patient. The drugs you will receive are based on the type of surgery you are having, the anesthesia you will be receiving and other variables, including any medical conditions you may have.

Surgery drugs are sometimes prescribed before and after the procedure, to prevent problems after surgery. For example, you may be prescribed an antibiotic before your surgery to prevent infection after your procedure.

It is important to tell your surgeon if you are taking any medications prior to your surgery. Some medications can change the effectiveness of anesthesia, others can promote bleeding during your procedure.

Surgery Drugs:


Antibiotics are a category of drugs used to combat bacteria that cause infection. Antibiotics can be given orally, in pill form, or intravenously, or through an IV. While in the hospital, antibiotics are most commonly given through an IV, but the vast majority of home antibiotics are prescribed as pills. The selection of the antibiotic depends on the type of surgery and the risk of infection by certain types of bacteria. Examples include:

  • Amoxicillin
  • Ampicillin
  • Ancef (Cefazolin)
  • Keflex (Cephalexin)
  • Levaquin (Levofloxacin)
  • Linezolid
  • Maxipime (Cefepime)
  • Piperacillin
  • Rifampin
  • Rocephin (Ceftriaxone)
  • Vancomycin


Antifungals are a classification of medicines that work to fight fungal infections in the body, such as candidiasis (yeast) or cryptococcal meningitis.

Antifungals are frequently given in a pill form or as an IV, but can be a powder or ointment.

  • Amphotericin B
  • Flagyl (Metronidazole)
  • Nystatin

Analgesics-Pain Relievers

Analgesics, or pain medications, are used to control pain before and after surgery. They are available in a wide variety of forms, and can be given through an IV, in pill form, as a lozenge, a suppository, as a liquid taken by mouth and even as an ointment where the medication is absorbed through the skin.

The strength of individual pain medications varies widely, just as the dosage prescribed by a physician can be different from one patient to another. For this reason, the medication prescribed will depend greatly on the condition for which it is prescribed. Most post-operative analgesics contain opioids, either purely or in combination with acetaminophen or NSAIDs.

The following are examples of commonly prescribed choices:

IV Fluids

Intravenous fluids, or IV fluids, are given to patients for two primary reasons, to replace fluids they have lost through illness or injury, or to provide fluids when they are unable to drink as they normally would. The solution that is used is selected based on the patient’s needs and can change periodically during a hospital stay. When patients are able to take fluids by mouth, their need for IV fluids is dramatically decreased in most cases.


Electrolytes are compounds in the blood that can conduct an electrical charge and help the body complete essential functions, including helping the heart beat.

Too many electrolytes, or too few electrolytes, can cause disruptions in the heart’s function or other serious problems.

To prevent complications from electrolyte imbalances, supplements can be given, orally or through an IV.

  • Calcium Chloride
  • Magnesium Chloride
  • Potassium Chloride
  • Phosphorous (Potassium Phosphate)


Anticoagulants are a category of medications that slow the clotting of the blood. This is important after surgery as one of the risks of surgery is blood clots, especially deep vein thrombosis, which often occur in the legs.

To prevent blood clots from forming and causing complications such as a stroke or pulmonary embolus, anticoagulants are given through an IV, an injection, or in a pill form.

  • Argatroban
  • Coumadin (Warfarin)
  • Heparin
  • Lovenox (Enoxaparin)


Diuretics are medications that increase the rate of urination. They can be used to stimulate kidney function and are also used to help control high blood pressure.

  • Lasix (Furosemide)
  • Hydrochlorothiazide (HCTZ)

Anesthesia Drugs/Paralytics

There are several types of medication that are used to provide anesthesia for patients having surgery. To keep patients calm immediately before the procedure, a barbiturate may be used. During surgery, a combination of paralytics-drugs that paralyze the muscles of the body, and drugs that cause unconsciousness are used together.


Barbiturates and benzodiazepines, commonly known as “downers” or sedatives, are two related classes of prescription medications that are used to depress the central nervous system. They are sometimes used with anesthesia to calm a patient prior to surgery.

Because of side effects, barbiturates have basically been replaced by benzos to treat anxiety and can be used to relieve symptoms of insomnia and prevent seizure activity.

  • Ativan (Lorazepam)
  • Librium (Chlordiazepoxide)
  • Pentobarbital
  • Valium (Diazepam)
  • Versed (Midazolam)
  • Phenobarbital
  • Seconal (Secobarbital)


Antacids are a common part of recovery from surgery. Even if you aren’t feeling well enough to eat or drink, your stomach continues to produce stomach acids. To prevent nausea, vomiting, or other complications from acid being produced but not used, antacids are given.

  • Pepcid (Famotidine)
  • Tagamet (Cimetidine): Used as both a mouth swish and to treat ulcers

Mouth Care

Mouth care is very important after surgery, especially for patients who are on a ventilator. Studies have shown that good mouth care, including rinsing the mouth with a solution that helps kill bacteria, can help prevent ventilator acquired pneumonia, which is when pneumonia develops in a patient who has been intubated and placed on a ventilator.

Mouth care is also important after dental surgeries, helping prevent infection in the gums and the areas where surgery was performed.

  • Chlorhexidine
  • Lidocaine HCl (oral solution)

Stool Softeners

Laxatives and stool softeners are commonly used after surgery because many pain medications used after surgery are known to cause constipation.  These medications are typically given before constipation becomes a problem, as a preventative measure.


Nurse’s Drug Loose Leaf. Blanchard & Loeb. 2002.

RxList. The Internet Drug Index.

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