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What is the Risk of Death from Surgery?

Serious Risks of Surgery


Updated June 10, 2014

Question: I was discussing the risks of my surgery with my surgeon. He said that death was one of the risks of surgery that I might face. Should I be worried?

Answer: Surgery should never be taken lightly; in fact all surgeries have a risk of death. Some surgeries have a much higher risk than others. For example, during some open heart surgeries the heart is actually stopped for almost an hour before being restarted. That surgery has a higher risk than carpal tunnel surgery which is performed on a patient’s hand and wrist, often in an outpatient surgery center.

If you are considering surgery, ask your surgeon about the risk of death during the procedure you are planning. Your doctor can take your personal health into account, along with the typical risks of the procedure, to give you a more accurate idea of your personal level of risk. It is not unreasonable to ask for a your risk as a number, as in "there is a five percent risk of death during this procedure".

It is important to know that deaths during and immediately after surgery are usually a result of a reaction to anesthesia rather than an issue with the surgical procedure itself. Learn more about the risks of surgery. Discuss your concerns with your surgeon and find out what kind of risk is involved in the surgery you need.


Patient Information Pamphlet, American College of Surgeons, 2007

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