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Anesthesia: After Your Surgery

You’ve just had surgery. During surgery, you received medication called anesthesia to keep you comfortable and pain-free. After surgery, you may experience some pain or nausea. This is common. Here are some tips for feeling better and recovering after surgery.

Man putting pill in his mouth while holding glass of water.

Going home

Your doctor or nurse will show you how to take care of yourself when you go home. He or she will also answer your questions. Have an adult family member or friend drive you home. For the first 24 hours after your surgery:

  • Do not drive or use heavy equipment.

  • Do not make important decisions or sign legal documents.

  • Avoid alcohol.

  • Have someone stay with you, if needed. He or she can watch for problems and help keep you safe.

Be sure to keep all follow-up appointments with your doctor. And rest after your procedure for as long as your doctor tells you to.

Coping with pain

If you have pain after surgery, pain medication will help you feel better. Take it as directed, before pain becomes severe. Also, ask your doctor or pharmacist about other ways to control pain, such as with heat, ice, and relaxation. And follow any other instructions your surgeon or nurse gives you.

Tips for taking pain medication

To get the best relief possible, remember these points:

  • Pain medications can upset your stomach. Taking them with a little food may help.

  • Most pain relievers taken by mouth need at least 20 to 30 minutes to take effect.

  • Taking medication on a schedule can help you remember to take it. Try to time your medication so that you can take it before beginning an activity, such as dressing, walking, or sitting down for dinner.

  • Constipation is a common side effect of pain medications. Contact your doctor before taking any medications like laxatives or stool softeners to help relieve constipation. Also ask about any dietary restrictions, because drinking lots of fluids and eating foods like fruits and vegetables that are high in fiber can also help. Remember, don’t take laxatives unless your surgeon has prescribed them.

  • Mixing alcohol and pain medication can cause dizziness and slow your breathing. It can even be fatal. Don’t drink alcohol while taking pain medication.

  • Pain medication can slow your reflexes. Don’t drive or operate machinery while taking pain medication.

If your health care provider tells you to take acetaminophen to help relieve your pain, ask him or her how much you are supposed to take each day. (Acetaminophen is the generic name for Tylenol and other brand-name pain relievers.) Acetaminophen or other pain relievers may interact with your prescription medicines or other over-the-counter (OTC) drugs. Some prescription medications contain acetaminophen along with other active ingredients. Using both prescription and OTC acetaminophen for pain can cause you to overdose. The FDA recommends that you read the labels on your OTC medications carefully. This will help you to clearly understand the list of active ingredients, dosing instructions, and any warnings. It may also help you avoid taking too much acetaminophen. If you have questions or don't understand the information, ask your pharmacist or health care provider to explain it to you before you take the OTC medication.

Managing nausea

Some people have an upset stomach after surgery. This is often due to anesthesia, pain, pain medications, or the stress of surgery. The following tips will help you manage nausea and get good nutrition as you recover. If you were on a special diet before surgery, ask your doctor if you should follow it during recovery. These tips may help:

  • Don’t push yourself to eat. Your body will tell you when to eat and how much.

  • Start off with clear liquids and soup. They are easier to digest.

  • Progress to semi-solid foods (mashed potatoes, applesauce, and gelatin) as you feel ready.

  • Slowly move to solid foods. Don’t eat fatty, rich, or spicy foods at first.

  • Don’t force yourself to have three large meals a day. Instead, eat smaller amounts more often.

  • Take pain medications with a small amount of solid food, such as crackers or toast to avoid nausea.

Call your surgeon if…

  • You still have pain an hour after taking medication (it may not be strong enough).

  • You feel too sleepy, dizzy, or groggy (medication may be too strong).

  • You have side effects like nausea, vomiting, or skin changes (rash, itching, or hives).


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