After Surgery: Discomforts and Complications

What are some common postoperative discomforts?

The amount of discomfort following surgery depends on the type of surgery performed. Some typical discomforts include:

  • nausea and vomiting from general anesthesia

  • soreness in the throat if the patient needs artificial ventilation (the soreness is caused by the tube placed in the windpipe for breathing during surgery)

  • soreness and swelling around the incision site

  • restlessness and sleeplessness

  • thirst

  • constipation and flatulence

What complications may occur after surgery?

Sometimes, complications can occur following surgery. The following are the most common complications, as defined by the American Medical Association. However, individuals may experience complications and discomforts differently. Specific treatment for any post-surgical complication(s) will be based on:

  • your age, overall health, and medical history

  • extent of the disease

  • type of surgery performed

  • your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies

  • your opinion or preference

Complications may include:

  • shock

    Shock is the dangerous reduction of blood flow throughout the body. Shock is most often caused by reduced blood pressure. Treatment may include any/all of the following:

    • stopping any blood loss

    • maintaining an open airway

    • keeping the patient flat

    • reducing heat loss with blankets

    • intravenous infusion of fluid or blood

    • oxygen therapy

    • medication

  • hemorrhage

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

    • infusions of saline solution and plasma preparation to help replace fluids

    • blood transfusion

  • wound infection

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

    • antibiotics

    • draining of any abscess

  • deep vein thrombosis

    Sometimes blood clotting occurs within deep-lying veins. Large blood clots can break free and clog an artery to the heart, leading to heart failure. Treatment depends on the location and the extent of the blood clot, and may include:

    • anticoagulant medications (to prevent clotting)

    • thrombolytic medications (to dissolve clots)

    • surgery

  • pulmonary complications

    Sometimes, pulmonary complications arise due to lack of deep breathing within 48 hours of surgery. This may also result from inhaling food, water, or blood, or pneumonia. Symptoms may include wheezing, chest pain, fever, and cough (among others).

  • urinary retention

    Temporary urine retention, or the inability to empty the bladder, may occur after surgery. Caused by the anesthetic, urinary retention is usually treated by the insertion of a catheter to drain the bladder until the patient regains bladder control.

  • reaction to anesthesia

    Although rare, allergies to anesthetics do occur. Symptoms can range from lightheadedness to liver toxicity.


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