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After Surgery: Discomforts and Complications

What are some common post-op discomforts?

The amount of discomfort you have after surgery depends on many things, including the type of surgery. Typical discomforts may include:

  • Nausea and vomiting from general anesthesia

  • Sore throat caused by the tube placed in the windpipe for breathing during surgery

  • Soreness, pain, and swelling around the incision site

  • Restlessness and sleeplessness

  • Thirst

  • Constipation and gas

What complications may occur after surgery?

Complications can sometimes occur after surgery. These are the most common complications.

Complications may include the following.

Shock

Shock is a severe drop in blood pressure that causes a dangerous slowing of blood flow throughout the body. Shock may be caused by blood loss, infection, spine injury, or metabolic problems. Treatment may include any or all of the following:

  • Stopping any blood loss

  • Helping with breathing. This might be with a breathing machine.

  • Reducing heat loss

  • Giving IV fluids or blood

  • Giving extra oxygen

  • Prescribing medicines. This might be raise blood pressure.

Bleeding

Rapid blood loss from the site of surgery, for example, can lead to shock. Treatment of rapid blood loss may include:

  • IV fluids or blood plasma

  • Blood transfusion

  • More surgery to control the bleeding

Wound infection

When bacteria enter the site of surgery, an infection can happen. Infections can delay healing. Wound infections can spread to nearby organs or tissue, or to distant areas through the bloodstream. Treatment of wound infections may include:

  • Antibiotics

  • Surgery or procedure to clean or drain the infected area

Deep vein thrombosis

A deep vein thrombosis is a blood clot in a large vein deep inside a leg, arm, or other part of the body. Symptoms are pain, swelling, tenderness, and skin redness in a leg, arm, or other area. If you have these symptoms, call your healthcare provider. Compression stockings are often used for treatment. They can also prevent DVTs.

Pulmonary embolism

The clot can break away from the vein and travel to the lungs. This clot is called a pulmonary embolism. In the lungs, the clot can cut off the flow of blood. This is a medical emergency and may cause death. If you have the following symptoms, call 911 or get emergency help. Symptoms are chest pain, trouble breathing, coughing (may cough up blood), sweating, very low blood pressure, fast heartbeat, light headedness, and fainting. Treatment depends on the location and size of the blood clot. It may include:

  • Blood-thinner medicines (anticoagulants) to prevent more clots

  • Thrombolytic medicines to dissolve clots

  • Surgery or other procedures

Lung problems

Sometimes lung problems happen because you don’t do deep breathing and coughing exercises within 48 hours of surgery. They may also happen from pneumonia or from inhaling food, water, or blood into the airways. Symptoms may include wheezing, chest pain, shortness of breath, fever, and cough.

Urinary retention

This means you aren’t able to empty your bladder. This may be caused by the anesthesia or certain surgeries. It is often treated by using a thin tube (catheter) to drain the bladder. This is kept in place until you have regained bladder control. Sometimes medicines to stimulate the bladder may be given.

Reaction to anesthesia

This is rare, but it does happen. Symptoms can range from mild to severe. Treatment of allergic reactions includes stopping specific medicines that may be causing the reaction. You may also be given other medicines to treat the allergy. Tell your healthcare team about any allergies you have before the surgery to minimize this risk. If an allergic reaction does occur, ask what caused the allergy so you can stay away from it for any future surgery.

Medical Reviewers:

  • Daphne Pierce-Smith RN MSN CCRC
  • Jonas DeMuro MD
  • Kenny Turley PA-C