The Stitch

Surgery and Operative Risks: What Patients Need to Know

Undergoing surgery can be a stressful and daunting experience for many patients. While surgery is often necessary for the treatment of various medical conditions, it also carries inherent risks and potential complications. As a patient, it’s important to understand what these risks are and what steps you can take to mitigate them.

Understanding surgical risks

A doctor holding a clipboard seated next to a patient. Both are viewed from the neck down.Surgical risks can vary depending on the type of procedure being performed, the patient’s age and overall health and various other factors. However, some potential risks that patients should be aware of include:

  • Infection: Surgical incisions can become infected, which can lead to complications and prolonged recovery times.
  • Bleeding: Surgery can sometimes result in excessive bleeding, which may require blood transfusions or additional surgical intervention.
  • Anesthesia complications: Anesthesia is used to keep patients unconscious and pain-free during surgery, but it can also carry risks such as allergic reactions, respiratory problems and heart complications.
  • Nerve damage: Surgery can sometimes cause nerve damage, leading to temporary or permanent loss of sensation or movement.
  • Blood clots: Surgery can increase the risk of blood clots forming in the legs or lungs, which can be life-threatening.

While there is a relatively low risk of death associated with surgery, it’s important for patients to be aware of the potential risks of adverse events and take steps to minimize them.

Minimizing surgical risks

While it’s impossible to completely eliminate the risks associated with surgery, there are steps patients can take to reduce their risk of complications. Some tips for minimizing surgical risks include:

  • Be honest with your healthcare provider about your medical history and any medications or supplements you’re taking.
  • Follow preoperative instructions carefully, such as not eating or drinking anything for a certain period of time before the procedure.
  • Ask questions and communicate openly with your healthcare team about any concerns you may have.
  • Follow postoperative instructions carefully, such as taking prescribed medications and attending follow-up appointments.
  • Take steps to maintain overall health, such as eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly and avoiding smoking and excessive alcohol consumption.

While surgery can be an effective treatment for many medical conditions, it’s important for patients to be aware of the potential risks and complications. Ultimately the risks are low, and the benefits of the treatment outweigh them significantly.

Learn more about surgery at Baylor Medicine

By Tiffany Harston, communications associate with the Michael E. DeBakey Department of Surgery.

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