Fever After Surgery

When a Fever After Surgery Is Serious and Needs Medical Attention

adult man taking his temperature
Checking For a Temperature After Surgery. Medioimages/Photodisc/Getty Images

Question: Fever After Surgery

When should I be alarmed by a fever after having surgery?

Answer:

There are many reasons that you might develop a fever after surgery, and how severe it is depends upon the cause. There are dozens of reasons that your temperature might be elevated after a surgical procedure, most are related to the procedure, but some are not.

It is important to take your temperature daily in the week following surgery, or if you feel chilled or feverish.

A fever after surgery is the most common complication that patients face. For most patients, a fever isn't reason for alarm, but it should never be ignored. A serious fever -- 102 degrees F or higher -- indicates the need for medical attention, but all fevers over 100 F should be reported to your surgeon.

A fever of 99 is very common after surgery, especially the first week after a surgery with a healing incision. A fever, along with an incision that does not appear to be healing well is absolutely cause to update your surgeon and to possibly seek medical attention. 

The more time that passes between the day of your surgery and the day of your fever, the less likely the fever is to be related to your surgery, especially if weeks have passed with no issues.

Treatment of Fever After Surgery

The cause of a fever may not be obvious, and a low-grade fever may not even warrant treatment beyond over the counter medications such as Tylenol or Ibuprofen.

 These medications are used to decrease body temperature.   Often, a fever between 99 and 101 is allowed to run its own course without medication. Higher temperatures typically require greater attention and may require testing to identify the cause.

If you are taking pain medication that contains Tylenol or Ibuprofen routinely to manage your pain after surgery, you could potentially have a fever and not realize it as these medications work to reduce fever as well as pain.

 

Bringing down a fever with medication may not be good enough.  You may have an infection that requires prescription antibiotics to treat, specialized wound care, or both.  With higher fevers, blood, urine and wound cultures are often done to make sure the blood, urinary tract and surgical wound are not growing a bacterial infection.  

Many surgeons will err on the side of caution and begin antibiotics before the culture results are available in order to prevent an infection that may be present from worsening. 

Causes of Fever After Surgery:

Non-Surgical Reasons For Fever:

  • Virus, such as the flu
  • Cold
  • Sore Throat
  • Neurological Fever: This type of fever is caused by a brain injury and will not respond to normal interventions, such as Ibuprofen.

    Sources:

    Evaluating Postoperative Fever: A Focused Approach. Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine. April 2011. http://ccjm.org/content/73/Suppl_1/S62.full.pdf

    Fever In the Postoperative Patient: A Chilling Problem. The Canadian Journal of CME. Accessed April 2011. http://www.stacommunications.com/journals/cme/2004/May/PDF/093.pdf

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