What You Need to Know to Prepare for the Best Experience in Surgery and Recovery

What You Need to Know to Prepare for the Best Experience in Surgery and Recovery

By Mario Leyba, MD, and Brand Newland, PharmD

  1. An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure

Going into surgery as healthy as possible is among the most important things you can do to prepare for successful recovery and getting back to life.

If you are prepared for surgery, you are less likely to experience complications and lengthy hospitals stays.

Some suggestions:

  • Optimize nutrition

Protein, plant-based foods and fiber prepare your body for healing and a faster return to normal life after surgery.

  • Exercise

Improving your muscle strength and cardiovascular fitness provides a great baseline for the post-surgery recovery by improving blood flow to speed healing. There are many resources available online for selecting the right exercise for you. For example, the Arthritis Foundation provides one geared toward pre-surgery preparation.

  • Stop smoking

We know you’ve heard it before but there might not be a more important time to quit smoking than in the time leading up to surgery. Even just a few weeks tobacco-free before surgery shortens recovery, improves healing and reduces risks. Optimally, you go into surgery tobacco-free for at least 1 month and stay tobacco-free for at least 1 month after surgery. If you do this…keep going! There are many resources to quit smoking. Here is one great resource from Mayo Clinic.

The American College of Surgeons provides additional useful information about surgery preparation through its “Strong for Surgery” program.

  1. Listen to Your Body and Communicate

If the symptoms that led to your need for surgery (e.g., pain) worsen or new symptoms appear, contact your surgeon’s office. The doctor may want to speak with you more about these changes, possibly with the help of telehealth technology. And it’s possible the changes mean your surgery is becoming more urgent.

  1. Use Non-Prescription Pain Medications Confidently

Leading up to surgery, many patients experience pain requiring treatment with non-prescription, over-the-counter pain medications. These medications (e.g., acetaminophen, ibuprofen, naproxen, and others) can be highly effective for pain, both before and after surgery.

It is important for patients to understand the differences between the medications so you can get the most benefit from their use and so you can feel confident you aren’t causing more harm than good. Here’s a summary:

Medication Name Acetaminophen
Brand Name Tylenol
Dose per Pill 325mg
Dose/Frequency 1-2 pills every 4-6 hours
Daily Limit Do not take more than 12 pills in 24 hours
Concern when over limit Liver

Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)

Medication Name Ibuprofen
Brand Name Motrin
Dose per Pill 200mg
Dose/Frequency 1-2 pills every 4-6 hours
Daily Limit Do not take more than 6 pills in 24 hours or for more than 1 week straight
Concern when over limit Stomach, Heart, Kidneys
Medication Name Naproxen
Brand Name Aleve
Dose per Pill 220mg
Dose/Frequency 1 pill every 8-12 hours
Daily Limit Do not take more than 2 pills in 24 hours
Concern when over limit Stomach, Heart, Kidneys

One final note:  acetaminophen and an NSAID (ibuprofen or naproxen) can be used at the same time for additive pain relief. In fact, this combination can be so effective it may be the exact regimen your physician will recommend after surgery to reduce your need for other pain medications, such as opioids.

  1. Ask Your Doctor about Enhanced Recovery Protocols

Surgery guided by Enhanced Recovery has been shown to reduce time in the hospital by 30%, complications by 50% and overall recovery time by weeks. This 21st Century surgery remains difficult to find on your own, however. Ask about it. Then ask again. You may even want to use this list of questions as a guide for your conversation.

In summary, ask questions, don’t be afraid to express your priorities and anxieties to your surgeon, and do what it takes to feel confident in the care plan.

Best wishes for an excellent procedure and fast recovery!

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