A Patient’s Guide to Common Post-Surgical Complications


Once you hear that the operation was a success, you’re probably eager to get dressed and go home. However, you could wind up back in the hospital unless you’re prepared to deal with a variety of common surgical complications. 

Taking simple precautions before your operation and after your release could speed up your recovery and keep you well. 

Learn more in this quick guide to what to expect after surgery. 

Fighting Infections 

Surgical site infections are the most common surgical complication. Your skin usually protects you, so it’s important to be extra careful when that barrier is broken. 

Crucial actions include: 

1. Wash your hands. Keeping your hands clean may be all it takes to prevent infection. Wash thoroughly with soap and warm water. Ensure your health providers and visitors wash their hands too. 

2. Clean your incision. Your doctor will give you specific instructions on how to care for your wound. In general, you’ll want to keep it clean and dry as much as possible and change the bandages as needed. 

3. Take antibiotics. If your doctor prescribes antibiotics, take the entire supply as directed. They’re used to kill the bacteria that causes infections. 

Preventing Blood Clots 

When you’re inactive, blood may collect in your lower body and form clots. That’s potentially serious if the clot travels to your heart or lungs. 

Take these precautions: 

1. Get moving. Plan on getting back on your feet as soon as your doctor says it’s safe. While you’re confined to your bed, ask if it’s okay to do leg lifts and arm circles. 

2. Wear supportive garments. You may be at higher risk of blood clots due to your family history, pregnancy, or other factors. Compression stockings and similar devices can help reduce swelling and prevent clotting. 

3. Consider blood thinners. Your doctor may also prescribe anticoagulant medications to stop clots from forming or growing. That may include drugs such as warfarin or plain aspirin. 

Other Tips 

Your individual risks will depend on the type of procedure you’re having and your overall health. Talk with your doctor about any concerns and questions you have. 

Follow these tips, too: 

1. Treat pain. Talk with your doctor about what kind of discomfort you can expect. Treating your pain effectively with medication and natural methods will help you to heal. 

2. Breathe and cough. Anesthesia interferes with regular breathing. Coughing and doing special breathing exercises can help to expel mucus and inflate your lungs. If you need more assistance, you may be given a device called an incentive spirometer that helps you measure and deepen your breath. 

3. Stay regular. Temporary constipation and urinary retention are common. If the issue continues, your doctor may recommend a catheter or laxatives. 

4. Rest and relax. You may also experience fatigue and short-term insomnia. Give your body the rest it needs by going to bed early and keeping your bedroom dark and quiet. Do something soothing if you’re unable to sleep. Meditate or listen to soft music. 

5. Do research. Take an active role in your care by being an informed patient. Ask your surgeon how many times they’ve performed the procedure you’re having. You can also look up the complication rates for your surgeon and your hospital through the American Medical Association and other sources. 

6. Follow instructions. After your surgery, you’ll probably be given an extensive list of written instructions and a contact number in case you have questions. Pay attention to any restrictions on activities such as driving or lifting heavy objects to avoid endangering yourself and others. 

Surgery is an effective way to resolve many medical conditions, and many popular procedures are now safer and less invasive. Make your surgery a lasting success by lowering your risk for infections, blood clots, and other postoperative complications. 

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