Postoperative care is the care you receive after a surgical
procedure. The type of postoperative care you need depends on the type of
surgery you have, as well as your health history. It often includes pain
management and wound care.
Postoperative care begins immediately after surgery. It lasts
for the duration of your hospital stay and may continue after you’ve been discharged.
As part of your postoperative care, your healthcare provider should teach you
about the potential side effects and complications of your procedure.
Before you have surgery, ask your doctor what the postoperative
care will involve. This will give you time to prepare beforehand. Your doctor
may revise some of their instructions after your surgery, based on how your
surgery went and how well you’re recovering.
ahead of time
Ask as many questions as possible before your surgery, and
ask for updated instructions before you’re discharged from the hospital. Many
hospitals provide written discharge instructions.
Ask your doctor questions such as:
- How long will I be expected to remain in the hospital?
- Will I need any special supplies or medications when I
- Will I need a caregiver or physical therapist when I go
- What side effects can I expect?
- What complications should I watch out for?
- What things should I do or avoid to support my
- When can I resume normal activity?
The answers to these questions can help you prepare ahead of
time. If you expect to need help from a caregiver, arrange for it before your
surgery. It’s also important to learn how to prevent, recognize, and respond to
Depending on the type of surgery you have, there are many
potential complications that can arise. For example, many surgeries put
patients at risk of infection, bleeding at the surgical site, and blood clots caused
by inactivity. Prolonged inactivity can also cause you to lose some of your
muscle strength and develop respiratory complications. Ask your doctor for more
information about the potential complications of your specific procedure.
care in the hospital
After your surgery is complete, you will be moved to a
recovery room. You’ll probably stay there for a couple of hours while you wake
up from anesthesia. You’ll feel groggy when you wake up. Some people also feel
While you’re in the recovery room, staff will monitor your
blood pressure, breathing, temperature, and pulse. They may ask you to take
deep breaths to assess your lung function. They may check your surgical site
for signs of bleeding or infection. They will also watch for signs of an
allergic reaction. For many types of surgery, you will be placed under general anesthesia.
Anesthesia can cause an allergic reaction in some people.
Once you’re stable, you’ll be moved to a hospital room if you’re
staying overnight, or you’ll be moved elsewhere to begin your discharge process.
Outpatient surgery is also known as same-day surgery. Unless
you show signs of postoperative problems, you’ll be discharged on the same day
as your procedure. You won’t need to stay overnight.
Before you’re discharged, you must demonstrate that you’re able
to breathe normally, drink, and urinate. You won’t be allowed to drive
immediately following a surgery with anesthesia. Make sure you arrange
transportation home, preferably ahead of time. You may feel groggy into the
If you have inpatient surgery, you’ll need to stay in the
hospital overnight to continue receiving postoperative care. You may need to stay
for several days or longer. In some cases, patients who were originally scheduled
for outpatient surgery show signs of complications and need to be admitted for
Your postoperative care will continue after you’ve been
transferred out of the initial recovery room. You will probably still have an intravenous
(IV) catheter in your arm, a finger device that measures oxygen levels in your
blood, and a dressing on your surgical site. Depending on the type of surgery
you had, you may also have a breathing apparatus, a heartbeat monitor, and a
tube in your mouth, nose, or bladder.
The hospital staff will continue to monitor your vital
signs. They may also give you pain relievers or other medications through your
IV, by injection, or orally. Depending on your condition, they may ask you to
get up and walk around. You may need assistance to do this. Moving will help decrease
your chances of developing blood clots. It can also help you maintain your muscle
strength. You may be asked to do deep breathing exercises or forced coughing to
prevent respiratory complications.
Your doctor will decide when you’re ready to be discharged. Remember
to ask for discharge instructions before you leave. If you know that you’ll
need ongoing care at home, make preparations ahead of time.
Postoperative care at home
It’s very important that you follow your doctor’s
instructions after you leave the hospital. Take medications as prescribed,
watch out for potential complications, and keep your follow-up appointments.
Don’t overdo things if you’ve been instructed to rest. On
the other hand, don’t neglect physical activity if you’ve been given the go
ahead to move around. Start to resume normal activities as soon as you safely
can. Most of the time, it’s best to gradually return to your normal routine.
In some cases, you may not be able to care for yourself for
a while after your surgery. You may need a caregiver to help tend your wounds,
prepare food, keep you clean, and support you while you move around. If you
don’t have a family member or friend who can help, ask your doctor to recommend
a professional caregiving service.
Contact your doctor if you develop a fever, increased pain,
or bleeding at the surgical site. Don’t hesitate to contact your doctor if you
have questions or aren’t recovering as well as expected.
Appropriate follow-up care can help reduce your risk of complications
after surgery and support your recovery process. Ask your doctor for instructions
before you have your surgery and check for updates before you leave the
hospital. Contact your doctor if you suspect you’re experiencing complications
or your recovery isn’t going well. With a little planning and proactive care,
you can help make your recovery as smooth as possible.