Know the Most Common Complications After Surgery

Understanding Common Problems After Surgery May Help Prevent Them

after surgery
Prevention of Complications Is Key to a Quick Recovery.

Surgery is serious business, and it is a rare individual who has no complications after surgery. Most patients experience a minor complication or two, problems that resolve quickly and easily in the days following surgery. For some patients, surgery leads to a more serious types of problems, such as pneumonia or an infection.

Avoiding these complications can lead to a faster recovery after surgery!

Pain After Surgery

Pain is probably the most common complaint that surgery patients have in the days and sometimes weeks following surgery. Pain is to be expected, and can be managed with medication, but an expectation of no pain after a procedure is likely not realistic. Plan to manage your pain with medications ranging from over the counter medications like Tylenol or Ibuprofen or even prescription pain medications if prescribed by your surgeon.

Anesthesia Side Effects

The response to anesthesia after surgery is unique to the individual. Some wake up easily and with no unpleasant symptoms, others wake confused, agitated or nauseated. The best predictor for how you will wake from anesthesia is how you woke the last time you had it. If you woke up without side effects, that is great. If you woke up with severe nausea and vomiting, you are more likely than the average person to repeat the experience.

Nausea and Vomiting

Post-operative nausea and vomiting (PONV) is a side effect that leads to almost half of surgery patients feeling ill in the hours and days after surgery. Prevention is key. Make sure your anesthesia provider is aware of your previous experience and ask for a plan to prevent it from happening again.

It is much easier to prevent this issue with medication than it is to treat it once the patient is ill and vomiting. Vomiting is also very painful after surgery, especially if the surgery required an abdominal incision.  

Bleeding After Surgery

Some bleeding is considered normal after surgery, but a large amount of bleeding, or bleeding that won’t stop is not. Report any bleeding that you notice, aside from minor expected bleeding, to the surgeon or hospital staff so that it can be treated before it becomes a serious issue.

Atelectasis/Pneumonia

Being on a ventilator during surgery can, unfortunately, lead to issues with breathing. While this complication is more common with individuals who have to remain on the ventilator after surgery has finished, it can also happen in individuals who are unwilling or unable to cough during their recovery. 

Blood Clots After Surgery

Blood clots are always a concern after surgery.

Prevention, again, is key. A small blood clot can form in the leg, causing swelling and pain and can usually be prevented with medication. Even more serious is when a blood clot begins to move through the bloodstream, potentially traveling to the lungs where it becomes a pulmonary embolism--a life-threatening condition.

Fatigue After Surgery

Fatigue after surgery is a common complication, and an expected one. The body is stressed by the effects of anesthesia and surgery. The body is working hard to repair the incisions and loss of blood, and feeling tired is a normal part of recovering after surgery. While feeling tired is normal, feeling exhausted is not typical.

Confusion/Delirium After Surgery

Confusion after anesthesia is especially common in older patients. Confusion can also lead to delirium, a more serious type of confusion after anesthesia. If the patient has dementia or other issues with memory or confusion prior to surgery, they are more likely to have problems after a procedure.

Infection/Sepsis After Surgery

Preventing infection is of huge importance after surgery and it can be as easy as washing your hands properly and frequently. Antibiotics are often prescribed after surgery, even if no signs or symptoms of infection are present, in order to prevent this issue. Identifying the signs and symptoms of infection early can lead to a faster recovery, as an infection will dramatically slow or even stop the healing process.

Difficulty Urinating After Surgery

Trouble urinating after surgery is a very common issue, and typically happens to patients who had a urinary catheter placed during surgery. This problem, called urinary retention, usually resolves in the days following surgery. For other patients, a catheter may be necessary until the bladder “wakes up” from anesthesia.

Urinary Tract Infection

Urinary tract infections, like urinary retention, is often a result of having a urinary catheter placed for surgery. Most urinary tract infections are easily treated with antibiotics, and respond quickly to treatment. More serious urinary tract infections can lead to a condition called urosepsis, and for that reason, burning with urination and other urinary tract infection symptoms should not be ignored.

Wound Dehiscence

Wound dehiscence is the medical term for having an incision open back up during the healing process.  In most cases this is a minor issue, and the wound takes an extra week or two to heal. In serious cases, the wound opens enough to require surgical intervention to prevent evisceration.

Scarring From Surgery

Your ability to care for your wound in the weeks following surgery will have a huge impact on how your incision scars. Not smoking, keeping the wound clean, a healthy diet and appropriate use of medication will help determine how your body heals and how much scarring is present.

Fever After Surgery

A low grade fever after surgery is common in the first week of recovery, it is your body’s way of fighting any potential infection that may be present. High fevers are not common or expected and should always be reported to the surgeon.

Source

Classification of Surgical Complications. NIH. Accessed August 2015. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1360123/

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