Northside Health Library

Getting yourself healthy before surgery


Whether or not you have seen many doctors, you will likely know more about your symptoms and your health history than anyone else. Your doctors and nurses will depend on you for that information.

Tell your doctor(s) about:

  • Any reactions or allergies you have had to medications, foods (such as shellfish), tapes, iodine, or latex
  • If you have been drinking a lot of alcohol, more than 1 or 2 drinks a day
  • Problems with surgery or anesthesia before
  • History of blood clots or bleeding problems
  • Recent dental problems, such as infections or dental surgery

If you smoke, you need to stop. Ask your doctor or nurse for help. Smoking will slow down wound and bone healing. See also: Smoking and surgery.

Always let your doctor or nurse know about any cold, flu, fever, herpes breakout, or other illness you may have before your surgery.

Before some surgeries such as joint replacement heart valve surgery, you may need to have any needed or planned dental work done beforehand. Your surgeon may not allow you to have any dental work done for 3 months after surgery.

Preoperative Exam

Before your surgery, you will need to have a history and physical exam done.

  • This may be done by your surgeon, or you may be asked to see your primary care doctor.
  • Sometimes you may be asked to have a visit with a specialist who takes care of problems such as diabetes, lung disease, or heart disease.
  • Try to have this checkup at least 2 or 3 weeks before your surgery. That way, your doctors will have a chance to "tune-up" any of your medical problems.

Some hospitals will also have you visit with a nurse at the hospital before surgery.

  • You will be asked many questions about your medical history.
  • You may also have a chest x-ray, some lab tests, or an EKG during this visit.

Find Out How You Should Manage Your Medicines

Bring a list of medications you are taking with you every time you see a doctor or nurse.

  • This includes medicines you bought without a prescription and medicines you do not take every day.
  • Write down the dose and how often you take your medicines every day.
  • Tell your doctors and nurses about any vitamins, supplements, minerals, or natural medicines you are taking, as well as any alternative treatments you have had.

Two weeks before surgery you may be asked to stop taking drugs that make it harder for your blood to clot. These include aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen (Naprosyn, Aleve), and other drugs.

Ask your doctor which drugs you should still take on the day of your surgery.

Manage Your Medical Problems

If you have diabetes, heart disease, or other medical problems, your surgeon will ask you to see the doctor who treats you for these conditions. You can reduce your risk of problems during and after surgery by having your diabetes and other medical problems under control before surgery.

If you smoke, you need to stop. Ask your doctor or nurse for help. Smoking will slow down wound and bone healing. Focus on stopping now to achieve a safer and more complete recovery from your surgery.

You may have long-term medical problems, such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, lung problems, and skin conditions. Make sure these problems are stable, and let all of your health care providers know about your upcoming surgery. They may suggest you change your medication before you have surgery.

Review Date: 6/15/2010
Reviewed By: C. Benjamin Ma, MD, Assistant Professor, Chief, Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service, UCSF Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, and Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington, School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

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