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What You Can Do to Minimize the Risks of Surgery

Any surgical procedure has risks associated with it. You are putting trust in your physicians to place you under anesthetic, and to incise your skin and organs, remove things from your body, place things into your body, and perform any number of maneuvers to help better your health. But with these, comes the risk of bleeding, infection, injury to your body, and even death.

It is essential that you feel comfortable with your surgeon (and anesthesiologist), and ask all the questions you need to before surgery. Usually, your surgeon will go over the major risks of your operation, although they cannot cover every possibility. One thing that should be emphasized, however, is that risk modification is a two-way street. You, as the patient, has the power to do quite a few things that can reduce your risk of both minor and major complications. I will go over some of them here:

  1. Quit smoking. I made this first because it has some of the strongest scientific data behind it. Smoking even one tobacco cigarette before surgery has been shown to increase risk of infection after surgery. There are some operations – in plastic surgery, for example – that smoking regularly before surgery is almost guaranteed to cause complications. Breathing after surgery can also be affected as long time smokers may have chronic lung damage. The bottom line is this: the sooner you can completely stop smoking before surgery; the better. Marijuana has not been studied as closely as tobacco cigarettes, but it’s a safer bet to cease for as long as possible before any surgical procedure and wait 4-6 weeks afterwards before resuming.
  2. Lose weight. This one is not always easy. Studies show that being obese can increase your risk for infections and cardiopulmonary complications depending on the type of procedure and extent of your surgery. Even losing a few pounds – and certainly not gaining weight – prior to surgery can impact your surgical outcome. This is especially true for orthopedic procedures and abdominal procedure such as hernia repairs. Most surgeons will ask that you lose weight prior to surgery if the risk is too high.
  3. Good blood sugar control. If you have diabetes, carefully controlling your blood sugar can significantly decrease your risk of infectious complications. Make sure to speak with the physician who helps you manage your blood sugar so that you are optimized before surgery.
  4. Check with your cardiologist. If you have a history of hypertension or heart disease, chances are that your surgeon will ask you to receive clearance for surgery from a cardiologist or internal medicine doctor. This means that they will assess your risk factors and try to optimize your medical problems prior to surgery. You should not hesitate to see your doctor or cardiologist even if this is not recommended, as control of your blood pressure and assessing your heart function can be life-saving when you go under anesthesia.
  5. Eat well. Good nutrition is essential to healing. Studies show that poor nutritional status can lead to infections, failure to heal, and even breakdown of new connections of intestines or other organs that your surgeon creates. Eating enough protein prior to and after surgery, as well as receiving the necessary vitamins and minerals, are the key. Don’t hesitate to ask for a full nutritional panel prior to surgery if you suspect your diet as not been optimal.

There are many factors that contribute to the risk of surgical complications. But paying attention to the above can be a strong step in ensuring your best chances in having a complication-free surgical outcome.