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Many people do not feel well after surgery. Pain, nausea, and a lack of energy may occur even after a minor surgery. Usually, getting some rest and following the instructions your surgeon gave you will help postoperative problems diminish over time.

Different types of surgery require different home care instructions. Your surgeon will give you specific instructions to follow after your surgery. This includes learning about your medicines, diet restrictions, wound care, showering or bathing, and finding out when you can return to your regular activities. Your surgeon may think that you understand more than you really do about what you should or should not do when you return home. If you have any questions about your discharge instructions, be sure to ask your surgeon.

Your surgeon will want to talk to you if you:

  • Have questions about your home care instructions, such as wound care, diet, or activity level, or when to schedule a follow-up appointment.
  • Develop a symptom or problem that you do not know how to handle.
  • Develop an unexpected symptom or problem.
  • Have problems with your prescription medicines. These problems may include a rash, hives, nausea, vomiting, or stomach problems.

Check your symptoms to decide if and when you should see a doctor.

If you have had surgery:

  • You will be given some general instructions about what to do after surgery. Your surgeon may also give you some special instructions on how to care for the surgery area. Be sure to follow those instructions carefully.
  • If the instructions from your surgeon are not clear or do not cover your particular problem, contact your surgeon.
  • If your symptom or problem starts after the office or health facility is closed, call your surgeon's office and leave a message with the answering service (or follow instructions given on the answering machine). If you leave a message, be sure to include your name and phone number so that your surgeon (or the on-call surgeon) can contact you.

Do not smoke or use other tobacco products. Smoking slows healing because it decreases blood supply and delays tissue repair. For more information, see the topic Quitting Smoking.

Write down your symptom or problem. It may help you become more aware of your specific symptom or problem or give you ideas about its cause. It will also help prepare you to talk to your surgeon about what you are experiencing.

Symptoms to watch for during home treatment

Call your doctor if any of the following occur during home treatment:

  • A new symptom develops that is different than what your surgeon told you to expect.
  • Symptoms become more severe or frequent.

You may be able to prevent problems after surgery by taking steps beforehand to improve your health.

  • Do not smoke or use other tobacco products. Complications involving the lungs are more likely to occur in people who smoke. Infections are more common in people who use tobacco products, because of reduced blood flow and from having more mucus stuck in the airways. For more information, see the topic Quitting Smoking.
  • Maintain a healthy body weight. Problems with increased abdominal pressure, complications involving the lungs, and infection occur more often in people who are overweight. For more information, see the topic Weight Management.
  • Practice deep breathing exercises before surgery.
  • If possible, be active before your surgery to increase your fitness level. For more information, see the topic Fitness.
  • Eat a balanced diet. Make an appointment with a dietitian if you need help with menu planning. For more information, see the topic Healthy Eating.

Be sure to follow all of your surgeon's instructions after surgery to prevent problems. You may be instructed to:

  • Drink plenty of fluids. This can help prevent problems such as dehydration and constipation.
  • Sit up, cough, and breathe deeply to expand your lungs and help prevent breathing problems, such as pneumonia.
  • Walk as soon and as often as your surgeon recommends. Early activity helps prevent complications. Ask your surgeon how soon you can expect to get out of bed, sit in a chair, and walk. Walking increases circulation to your legs and helps prevent problems, such as blood clots. Walking also helps prevent constipation.

To prepare for your appointment, see the topic Making the Most of Your Appointment.

You can help your health professional diagnose and treat your condition by being prepared to answer the following questions:

  • What kind of surgery did you have?
  • What type of anesthesia was used?
  • How long ago was your surgery?
  • When did the symptom or problem start?
  • Has anything made the symptom or problem better or worse?
  • What home treatment measures have you tried? Did they help?
  • What prescription and nonprescription medicines or dietary supplements do you take?
  • Do you have any health risks?
  • Incision Care After Surgery

By: Healthwise Staff Last Revised: November 13, 2012
Medical Review: William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine

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