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10 Common Problems After Surgery

Postoperative Complications


Updated May 29, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Female doctor talking to female patient lying in hospital bed
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Many people are so focused on having a successful procedure that they tend to forget that the hard work of healing starts after the surgery. Recovering from surgery, in many ways, is the hardest part of the entire process. You may experience problems or you may be unsure about the instructions you have been given. You may wonder if what you are experiencing is normal after a surgical procedure, or if what is happening is a true postoperative complication.

While some things are very normal after surgery and will typically pass after a few days (such as a sore throat) it is important to remember that if it feels like an emergency, you should contact your surgeon or seek immediate medical attention at the emergency room.

More: What Is an Emergency After Surgery?

Why Can’t I Urinate?

Some patients experience difficulty urinating after surgery or even a burning sensation. A very select few have a complete inability to empty their bladder. This can happen as the result of anesthesia, the use of a urinary catheter (such as a Foley catheter) or the combination of the two.

How Do I Do Incision Care?

Incision care may seem like a difficult task, but it truly is not as hard as you might think. The key is to start with washing your hands well. After that infection-preventing measure, the actual dressing change is straightforward. Luckily for surgical patients, many wounds don't even require a dressing, they are left uncovered to allow air to get to the incision site.

Do I Have an Infection?

What does a normal incision look like and what does an infected incision look like? It can be hard to tell when both can be red, painful and look rather irritated. Your doctor will have the final word on whether your incision is healing the way it should, but there are some signs and symptoms that clearly indicate an infection is present.

Why Am I Constipated?

You are told not to eat before surgery. So, how do you end up constipated? How is that possible? What you eat after surgery can help speed healing and may help relieve symptoms of constipation.

Why Do I Have a Sore Throat?

Many patients end up with a sore throat after having surgery, yet they don’t understand what caused it. It is common to hear patients say things like, "I had surgery on my hip, so why do I have a sore throat?" Well, there is a common cause for his post-surgery ailment.

Help, I’m Having Surgical Pain

There are many types of pain. While most people initially think of medication as the only treatment for pain, there are additional ways to deal with pain caused by a surgical procedure. Many patients expect to get enough medication to make them pain-free after surgery; however, you may not be given as much as you think. Medication is typically dosed to make pain manageable, not to take it away entirely.

Depression After Surgery

Unfortunately, depression is not uncommon among surgery patients. Depression may have been there before the surgery. It may have been worsened by post-surgical pain. Identifying depression is the first step to obtaining meaningful treatment. Symptoms may range from feeling blue to having thoughts of suicide.

Fever After Surgery

Patients often wonder whether fever after surgery is normal. A fever is not necessarily a bad thing. But whether or not your fever is cause for significant concern is truly a judgment call by your physician.

Can I Take a Bath? Swim?

After your surgery, you may be itching to take a bath or perhaps hop into a swimming pool. There are guidelines for when you should soak and when you need to wait a while longer; your incision is typically the deciding factor.

My Incision Is Opening!

Very few things are as alarming to a surgical patient as looking at their incision and realizing it is opening up. That can range from a very small parting of the incision all the way up to dehiscence and evisceration, a condition where the incision opens and organs begin to protrude.


Incision Care. FamilyDoctor.org http://familydoctor.org/online/famdocen/home/healthy/firstaid/after-injury/095.html

Incision Care After Surgery. Kaiser Permanente http://members.kaiserpermanente.org/kpweb/healthency.do?hwid=tc4128spec

Post-op Instructions: Taking Care of Yourself After Your Operation. National Institutes of Health http://www.cc.nih.gov/ccc/patient_education/pepubs/postop.pdf

Postoperative Patient Care. Nursing Fundamentals. http://www.brooksidepress.org/Products/Nursing_Fundamentals_II/lesson_8_Section_4.htm

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