Getting yourself healthy before surgery

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Even if you have seen many doctors, you are likely to know more about your symptoms and health history than anyone else. Your doctors and nurses will depend on you to tell them things they need to know.

Tell your doctor(s) about:

  • Reactions or allergies you have had to medicines, foods (such as shellfish), tapes, iodine, or latex
  • Your use of alcohol (drinking 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 your healing after surgery.

Always let your doctor or nurse know about illnesses such as 

, , fever, or herpes breakout, or you may have before your surgery.

You may not be able to have dental work for 3 months after some surgeries (such as joint replacement or heart valve surgery). You will need to have planned dental work before your 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 your primary care doctor.
  • You may need to visit a specialist who takes care of problems such as , or .
  • Try to have this checkup at least 2 or 3 weeks before your surgery. That way, your doctors can take care of any medical problems you might have.

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.
  • Tell your doctors and nurses about any vitamins, supplements, minerals, or natural medicines you are taking, and any alternative treatments you have had.

Two weeks before surgery you may need to stop taking medicines 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 medicines 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 have you see the doctor who treats your for these problems. Your risk of problems after surgery will be lower if you have diabetes and other medical conditions under control before surgery.

Tell all of your health care providers that you are having surgery. They may suggest a change in your medicines before your operation.


Version Info

  • Last reviewed on 12/10/2012
  • Robert A. Cowles, MD, Associate Professor of Surgery, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, David R. Eltz, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.

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