Post-operative symptoms

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After a surgery, you may experience post-operative symptoms for a few days or weeks. Learn about common symptoms experienced after surgery and what you can do to manage them.

Key points

  • Post-operative symptoms can occur in the days to weeks following a surgery.
  • Common symptoms include nausea, headache, pain and feeling weak, tired or stiff.
  • It is important to watch for signs of infection or blood clots after surgery as these are serious complications.
  • Moving your body as soon as possible after surgery is the best way to start recovering and help you manage post-operative symptoms.

Post-operative symptoms are what you feel in the days or weeks after surgery. The symptoms can vary widely, depending on the type of surgery you have had.

  • Nausea can be an unpleasant side-effect of an anaesthetic. Your nurse may be able to give you something to help you feel better.
  • Some people get a headache after surgery. If it’s bothering you, let your doctor or nurse know.
  • You may feel weak, tired, stiff or sore from lying down for such a long time.
  • You may have pain from the incision. You’ll learn more about managing pain in the next section.
  • Due to the pain, or the surgery itself, you may not be taking deep breaths like you usually do. Sometimes parts of your lungs may close off or get some fluid in them. A physiotherapist may help you do deep breathing exercises and get you moving out of bed.
  • Infection is a risk after any surgery. Signs of infection include a fever, pus (smelly, cream-colored thick fluid) in your incision, redness and worsening pain around your incision. If you have any of these symptoms tell your doctor or nurse.
  • Anaesthetics, strong pain medicines (opiates), lying in bed and not eating or drinking enough can lead to constipation. This can be uncomfortable. Talk to your doctor or nurse. They can recommend some medications that can help get your bowels moving again. Eating, drinking and moving your body really help too.
  • Rarely, blood clots can form inside your body after you haven’t moved for a long time. This is really serious. Signs of a blood clot can include a new pain and swelling in your leg, suddenly having difficulty breathing or a really bad headache. If you have any of these signs, tell your doctor or nurse right away! Moving your body as soon as possible after surgery helps prevent blood clots from forming.
  • Some people feel a bit down, sad or in a bad mood after surgery. You may find it helpful to talk about it with someone on your health-care team or with someone close to you.

What can I do to avoid or reduce post-operative symptoms?

The human body works best when it moves around. This is true even after surgery, so the sooner you can get moving, the better! Movement can help reduce symptoms such as constipation and can help you gain your strength and appetite back. Movement can help lower the risk of chest infection and blood clots. Moving your body helps you recover and get out of hospital faster. Your nurse or a physiotherapist will show you some exercises that you can do, including breathing exercises to expand your lungs.

Last updated: September 3rd 2019