If you’re scheduled to have surgery, there are proactive steps you can take that can help lower your risk of experiencing complications after surgery such as post-operative infections and blood clots. Complications due to the surgical procedure, rather than a worsening of the underlying condition that caused the need for the surgery, are the main reason people are readmitted to the hospital within 30 days of undergoing surgery according to a study.
Start by researching the doctor and hospital
If your doctor recommends non-emergency surgery, your first step should be to seek a second opinion from a physician who has experience treating your condition. The second opinion can confirm your diagnosis and treatment plan, which provides you with peace of mind. A second opinion may also change your diagnosis or suggest other appropriate treatment options for you to consider.
Your next step is to find out what level of experience your surgeon has performing the specific surgery you’ll undergo, whether your surgeon is board certified, what his or her complication rate is, and what the hospital’s rate of complications after surgery is. You can ask your surgeon for this information and you can also find some of the information on websites like the American Medical Association’s Doctor Finder, the American Board of Medical Specialties website, and Consumer Reports’ Hospital Safety scorecard. A health advisor is another resource that can offer objective information about physician and hospital qualifications.
Proactive steps to lower your risk of complications
People with certain health problems, such as heart, lung, or liver problems, and those who have diabetes or are obese are at a greater risk of experiencing complications after surgery. If you fall into one of these categories, it’s important to make sure your condition is well-managed before surgery. Some physicians recommend “prehab”, a diet and exercise plan to help you get healthier and stronger before undergoing surgery.
Here are several other steps you can take to lower your risk of complications after surgery:
- Lower your infection risk: Before going to the hospital, you should shower or bathe and dress in clothes that are clean and haven’t been worn since they were laundered. That can reduce the amount of bacteria on your skin. It’s also wise not shave near the area where surgery will be performed. Small nicks in the skin and the irritation that shaving can cause can increase the risk of bacteria entering your body. After surgery, family and friends should wash their hands with antibacterial soap or hand sanitizer before coming into and leaving your hospital room. Ask your doctor how to care for your incision when you’re ready to be discharged, when you can shower or bathe, and find out what infection symptoms to watch out for as you recover.
- Prevent medical errors: Have a family member or health advisor with you at the hospital to ask questions, monitor the medications you’re given, and advocate on your behalf with your physicians and nurses.
- Avoid post-surgery blood clots: After surgery, you may be at increased risk for deep vein thrombosis, blood clots that form in the veins of your arms, legs, and pelvis. If these clots break free, they can travel to the brain and cause a stroke, to the heart and cause a heart attack, or to the lungs and cause a pulmonary embolism. The main reason your blood clot risk is higher after surgery is that you’re not active and blood can collect in the lower body and form clots. As soon as your physician gives you permission, get up and get moving to improve blood flow throughout your body. Your doctor may also recommend that you wear compression stockings or take blood thinners, depending on your medical history and any factors that put you at increased risk of blood clots.
- Don’t wait until your discharge to get instructions: Talk to your physician before your surgery to find out what types of equipment, support, and care you may need once you’re discharged from the hospital so you can get everything in place before you come home. Make sure you and any caregivers are taught how to perform any needed wound care or other procedures and when to call the doctor if you’re experiencing symptoms that may indicate complications. It’s also important to follow any restrictions your doctor recommends during recovery, such as limiting how much you lift, avoiding certain foods and beverages, abstaining from sex, and avoiding certain supplements and over-the-counter medicines.
Taking these proactive steps can help you have a smoother recovery and avoid complications after surgery.