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Common Post-Operative Complications

May 22, 2023

Any surgical procedure is a big deal. Of course, a successful outcome is desired, but there may be a price to pay even if everything goes as planned. Let’s look at some of the complications that can happen after surgery.

The amount of discomfort a patient may have after surgery is based on many things, including the type of surgery. The typical discomforts may include:

  • Nausea and vomiting from general anesthesia;
  • Constipation and gas;
  • A sore throat caused by the intubation tube in the windpipe for breathing during the procedure;
  • Soreness, pain, and swelling near the incision site;
  • Minor pain around IV sites;
  • Restlessness and sleeplessness; and
  • Thirst.

Types of Complications

Complications can sometimes occur after surgery. Let’s review the most common complications.

Shock. This is a severe drop in blood pressure that causes a dangerous slowing of blood flow throughout the body. Shock can be the result of blood loss, infection, spine injury, or metabolic problems. Treatment may include any or all of the following:

  • Stopping blood loss;
  • Assisting with breathing, such as with intubation;
  • Reducing heat loss;
  • Providing IV fluids;
  • A blood transfusion;
  • Extra oxygen; and
  • Prescribing medicines to help raise blood pressure.

Bleeding. For example, rapid blood loss from the surgery site can lead to shock. The treatment of rapid blood loss may include:

  • IV fluids
  • A blood transfusion of red cells or other blood products, like plasma; and
  • Additional surgery or other procedures to control the bleeding.

Wound Infection. When bacteria enter a surgery site, infection can occur, which can delay healing. Moreover, wound infections can spread to nearby organs or tissue, or to distant areas through the bloodstream, which if severe can be fatal. The treatment of wound infections can include antibiotics and follow-up procedures to clean or drain the infected area.

Deep vein thrombosis. This is a blood clot in a large vein deep inside a leg, arm, or other part of the body. The symptoms include pain, swelling, tenderness, and skin redness. The concern is that a clot can break off and travel to the lungs or brain, causing a pulmonary embolism or a stroke. Compression stockings are often used to prevent DVTs. The treatment after a clot is found usually involves blood thinners.

Pulmonary embolism. A clot that breaks away from the vein and travels to the lungs is called a pulmonary embolism. In the lungs, the clot can cut off the flow of blood, which can cause death. The symptoms are chest pain, trouble breathing, coughing (including coughing up blood), sweating, very low blood pressure, fast heartbeat, light headedness, and fainting. Treatment depends on the location and size of the blood clot and may include:

  • Blood-thinner medicines (anticoagulants) to prevent more clots;
  • Thrombolytic medicines to dissolve clots; and
  • Surgery or other procedures to remove the clot.

Lung Problems. This can occur if a patient does not do deep breathing and coughing exercises after surgery. It may also happen from pneumonia or from inhaling food, water, or blood into the airways. The symptoms may include wheezing, chest pain, shortness of breath, fever, and cough. Walking, deep breathing, and coughing often can help reduce the chances for these problems, and the treatment depends on the lung problem and the cause.

Urinary Retention. The inability to empty your bladder may be caused by the anesthesia or certain surgeries. This is frequently treated by using a catheter to drain the bladder. In addition, medicine may be administered to stimulate the bladder.

Anesthesia Reaction. Although rare, it does occur, and the symptoms can range from mild to severe. Treatment of allergic reactions includes halting medicines that may be causing the reaction. A patient may also be given other medicines to treat the allergy.

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