Thursday, Oct 20, 2016
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Preparing for surgery: What to know, what to ask

This is one of a series of columns about health issues written by staff members of ProMedica Physician Group and Mercy Health Partners, University of Toledo Medical Center, and the Toledo Clinic.

According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, every year, more than 15 million Americans have surgery. Most of these operations are elective, meaning they are scheduled in advance and do not involve a medical emergency.

If you are considering elective surgery, you have time to become as educated as possible about the procedure, its risks, benefits, and temporary and long-term effects. If you are feeling confused, overwhelmed, or anxious about the operation, talk with your doctor to determine that it is the best choice for you.

Not sure where to start? Here are a few important questions to ask your doctor or surgeon:

It's important to understand the specific surgery that your doctor is recommending and how that surgery will help your medical problem. Knowing the risks of having the surgery is as important as knowing the risks of not having the surgery. Ask your doctor or surgeon about risks, benefits, and common side effects. Consider getting a second opinion - check with your insurance company to see if this is covered.

Before your surgery, call your insurance company to find out what will be covered and what you will have to pay. Ask your surgeon what their fee covers, since some may include additional care such as post-operative visits.

Don't forget that there are other costs associated with surgery. Time off work, additional medication, and post-operative therapy are all results of surgery that should be considered when determining the cost.

Taking care of yourself before surgery is an important step in helping your body recover. Eat nutritious foods, get plenty of sleep and gather a network of friends and family for support. Talk to your doctor about medications, as well as everything you take without a prescription, especially herbs. Ask your surgeon if changes in diet or activity before surgery could be beneficial.

There are other ways to prepare for your surgery, too. Understanding your recovery will give you a better idea of how long it will be before you can return to daily activities. Knowing this will help you address work and home responsibilities before your surgery.

There are different types of anesthesia. Local anesthesia is used usually during minor procedures to numb a small site on the body. Regional anesthesia is used to prevent pain in large portions of the body, and general anesthesia is used throughout the whole body. Talk with your surgeon to find out what type of anesthesia you will need and the risks involved.

Your recovery begins immediately after your surgery, but the length of your recovery depends on your situation. Check with your doctor or surgeon to see what the recovery process will be for you. How will you feel right after the operation? Will you need to stay in the hospital? How soon can your family visit you afterward? Do you need to limit any activities for a while after the operation?

Find out what else will be involved in your recovery - medications, lifestyle changes, physical therapy, etc. - and what kind of post-operative care will be needed with your primary doctor. Talk with your family and friends openly about your recovery needs so that they can help you during this transitional time.

Talking with your doctor and surgeon openly before the operation is the best way to ensure that you are getting accurate information to help you make the best choices for your health. It is also a helpful way to manage anxiety, which is normal before surgery.

If you're feeling uneasy or nervous, consider talking with others who have had the same or similar surgery. Ask your doctor if there are any community resources or support groups that may be beneficial.

Most important, remember to keep a positive outlook. Once you have determined that surgery is the best option for treatment, envision your life after the surgery. Seeing yourself enjoying the benefits of surgery is a good way to maintain a positive approach that will help you prepare mentally for your operation.

Jonathan Schweid, MD, is a board-certified surgeon and a member of ProMedica Physician Group. For more information, visit

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