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After Surgery: Discomforts and Complications

What are some common postoperative discomforts?

The amount of discomfort following surgery depends on the type of surgery performed. Typical discomforts may include:

  • Nausea and vomiting from general anesthesia

  • Soreness in the 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 (flatulence)

What complications may occur after surgery?

Sometimes, complications can occur following surgery. The following are the most common complications.

Your/your baby’s/your child’s health care provider will figure out the best treatment based on:

  • How old you are/your baby/your child is

  • His or her/Your overall health and medical history

  • How sick you are/he or she is

  • How well you/your baby/your child can handle specific medications, procedures, or therapies

  • How long the condition is expected to last

  • Your opinion or preference

Complications may include:

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

    • Stopping any blood loss

    • Maintaining an open airway (with mechanical ventilation if needed)

    • Keeping the patient flat

    • Reducing heat loss with blankets

    • Giving intravenous (IV) fluids or blood

    • Providing oxygen therapy

    • Prescribing medication to raise blood pressure

  • 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:

    • 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 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 or collection of infection 

  • Deep vein thrombosis (SVT) and pulmonary embolism (PE). Together, these conditions are referred to as venous thromboembolism (VTE). They use this term because the conditions are very closely related. And, because their prevention and treatment is also closely related. A deep vein thrombosis is a blood clot in the large vein deep inside a leg, arm, or other parts of the body. The clot can separate from the vein and travel to the lungs, forming a pulmonary embolism. In the lungs, the clot can cut off the flow of blood. This is a medical emergency and may cause death. Treatment of DVT depends on the location and the extent of the blood clot and may include:

    • Anticoagulant medications (blood thinners to prevent further clotting)

    • Thrombolytic medications (to dissolve clots)

    • Surgery

  • Lung (pulmonary) complications. Sometimes, pulmonary complications arise due to lack of deep breathing and coughing exercises within 48 hours of surgery. They may also result from pneumonia or from inhaling food, water, or blood, into the airways. 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. Sometimes medications to stimulate the bladder may be given.

  • Reaction to anesthesia. Although rare, allergies to anesthetics do occur. Symptoms can range from mild to severe. Treatment of allergic reactions includes stopping specific medications that may be causing allergic reactions as well as administering other medications to treat the allergy.

Last Reviewed Date: 02/23/2015
© 2000-2015 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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