Why Can't I Eat or Drink Before My Surgery?

The Ban on Food and Drink Is for Your Safety During Surgery

Patient with a respiratory mask on operating table
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If you are planning to have surgery you may have been told that you shouldn’t eat or drink for eight to 12 hours prior to your procedure. It is very important that you follow these instructions to avoid complications during and after your surgery.

2 Reasons Not to Eat or Drink Before Surgery

1) If your surgery will be in part of your gastrointestinal system, having food in your system could complicate the surgery and lead to infection or cause the surgery to be canceled.

 In some cases, a bowel preparation is done, a process that completely empties your digestive tract to prepare for surgery.

2) If you have food or fluid in your stomach during your surgery, you could vomit while under anesthesia. The combination of anesthesia, which paralyzes the body, and intubation makes it possible for you to inhale the vomit into your lungs. This can cause serious complications, such as pneumonia and difficulty breathing, which can compromise your recovery.

Eating before surgery--when you have been told not to--can also lead to nausea and vomiting after surgery.  Vomiting after surgery can be extremely painful, as your incision site and your throat may already be sore from the surgery itself. 

Your Last Meal Before Surgery

You may be tempted to have a huge meal before you start your eight- to 12-hour fast. Do not give into the temptation, as it can completely defeat the purpose of fasting.

Instead, have a light meal such as soup and salad for your final meal before surgery. A heavier meal takes longer to digest and negates the effect of abstaining from food and drink prior to surgery.

If your surgeon has said you should take your regular medications on the morning of your surgery, plan to do so with the smallest sip of water possible.

Do not take your medication if the surgeon has not instructed you to do so, if you are unsure call the doctor's office or take them with you to the surgical center. Take care not to swallow water when you brush your teeth.

Leading Up to Surgery

If you are several days or weeks from surgery, try to make lean, protein-rich foods, such as pork, chicken, seafood or tofu/beans and low-fat dairy products a part of your diet. Protein is an essential part of the healing that takes place after surgery.

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