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When to Worry After Surgery

For most people, the worst part of surgery isn’t the procedure — it’s the recovery.

Modern surgical approaches — like minimally invasive and robotic-assisted surgery — is making recoveries safer and less painful than ever before.

But it’s still vital to know when a symptom after surgery is a sign of trouble so you can seek help fast.

Fret a fever

A low-grade fever after surgery can be common. Surgery is naturally traumatic for the body, and a fever is one way the body automatically responds to heal itself.

A fever can also be a sign of an infection, especially if it’s 101 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. It’s important to notify your surgeon if your fever gets too high — an emergency evaluation and a course of antibiotics may be necessary.

Watch the wound

Surgery means an incision. Most surgeries are minimally invasive, with a series of tiny incisions just a few millimeters wide. Smaller incisions heal faster, hurt less and are less likely to get infected.

When it’s safe to remove the dressing over your incision, watch for bleeding, redness, swelling or drainage. The incision should not be warm to the touch or have a foul smell. Any of these symptoms should be reported to your surgeon.

Follow your discharge instructions

When you leave the hospital, you and your caregiver will receive detailed, written instructions on what to do — and not to do.

You’ll return home with a dressing over your wound and written instructions on how to care for it. Don’t remove the dressing early, and recover the dressing as instructed.

You’ll also be instructed on when — and often, how — to safely bathe. Generally, baths are forbidden and showers are acceptable in a day or two after your procedure, but check your instructions.

You also may have specific dietary guidelines after your procedure, depending on the type of surgery. Proper nutrition and drinking lots of fluids are important to help your body heal, so follow these guidelines closely.

Another important instruction you’ll receive is to follow-up with your surgeon. This gives us a chance to evaluate how well you’re healing and ensure that there are not other reasons for concern.

Poor pain relief

Another fantastic innovation in recent years for surgery patients has been pain relief. Our anesthesiologists specialize in effective approaches to control pain that often limit or eliminate the need for dangerous narcotics after your procedure.

If you feel that your pain is well-controlled on over-the-counter medications that have been cleared by your surgeon — like ibuprofen or acetaminophen — you can discontinue prescription pain control. On the other hand, if your pain doesn’t improve or gets worse, you should reach out to your surgeon.

And if you are prescribed pain medications that you don’t use or need, make sure you dispose of them quickly and safely.

Other causes for concern

Other things to watch for after your surgery may include:

  • Increased fatigue
  • Digestive issues, like nausea, constipation or diarrhea
  • Problems with urinating
  • Increased numbness around the surgical site
  • Abnormally cold fingers or toes that may appear white or pale blue

If you’re ever worried about what you should do, reach out to your surgeon — they may set you up with an emergency appointment at their clinic or instruct you to go to the emergency department for evaluation.

Remember, complications after surgery are very rare. It’s our responsibility to make every effort to keep you safe before, during and after your procedure. It’s always better to catch a problem sooner than later.

Learn more at SurgeryAtTanner.org.

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