General Risks of any Surgical Procedure

Any form of surgery is associated with certain risks. So if you need to undergo a surgical procedure, it is imperative that you have a clear picture of what to expect prior, during and after the procedure.

Prior to surgery, your doctor will discuss with you the basic facts regarding your condition and why you need to be operated on. During this time, you can freely talk with your doctor any doubt or question you have in mind pertaining to your condition as well as to the surgical procedure itself. This process is essential as it is the primary requisite for obtaining an ‘informed consent’ which should be in place prior to any surgery.

You will be discussing with your doctor the benefits and risks associated with the surgical procedure you’re about to undergo. You will also be told about certain things to watch out for which are specific to your case and the surgery.

However, there are general risks that normally come with any surgical procedure. These include the following:

1) Complications of Anesthesia during surgery

Although quite rare, anesthesia complications can occur in certain patients that have adverse reactions to the anesthetic drugs used. This can also occur as a result of problems related to intubation or the insertion of a breathing tube. Aspiration of food or fluid into the lungs can also be problematic during surgery.

A life threatening reaction called malignant hyperthermia is characterized by a sudden rise in temperature. While this seldom occurs, it’s advisable to talk this out with your surgeon or anesthesiologist.

2) Bleeding during and after surgery

Whereas bleeding naturally occurs during a surgical procedure, excessive hemorrhaging is not. When blood loss is greater than normal, you may need to have a transfusion. And if bleeding reaches a critical point, surgery may be stopped or a substantial blood transfusion may be given.

The issue of blood transfusion should also be discussed before surgery as it is prohibited in certain religions.

Bleeding from the incision site can also occur after a surgical procedure so it is important to follow closely the doctor’s instructions on how to prevent bleeding after surgery.

3) Formation of blood clots

Blood clots can form in the surgical area or can develop as a result of inactivity during recuperation from surgery. Commonly known as deep vein thrombosis (DVT), this condition is the reason why surgeons emphasize the importance of moving around during the recovery period. As you move around, you get to promote the blood circulation throughout your body thereby preventing the formation of clots.

A blood clot can be very dangerous if it travels through the bloodstream and lodges in the lung, causing pulmonary embolism, or settles in the brain, which can lead to stroke.

If you have a history of DVT, your risk for postoperative clot formation is increased. So be sure to inform your doctor about it too.

4) Trauma or injury during surgery

Any surgery poses a risk of trauma or injury to the tissues or organs surrounding the organ being operated on. For instance, a simple appendectomy (removal of appendix) may lead to accidentally injure the intestines or other digestive organs.

When noted during surgery, the damage may immediately be repaired. But in cases where the injury is detected during the recovery period, it may pose an additional risk. If the damage is quite severe or life threatening, it may require another surgery to correct.

5) Human errors

Surgeons and the rest of the surgical team are all humans so even the best surgeons are still prone to commit errors. Although very rare, such errors may include cutting on the wrong vessels, removing the wrong organ, or leaving a surgical tool (sponge, clamp, etc.) inside the operative site.

Such surgical errors of course are considered malpractice acts on the part of the surgeon and the whole surgical team.

6) Death

Whether the surgery is elective or an emergency, it is associated with a risk of death in varying levels. In certain cases, an emergency surgery is done to save an injured patient facing an eminent death if no intervention will be given. In this case, the chances of survival after surgery rules over the certainty of death if surgery is not done.

7) Delayed recovery after surgery

Recovery from surgery may vary from one person to another. Healing after surgery may also be affected in patients who have chronic diseases, immune system disorders, or are recuperating from a previous illness. These patients may need to stay longer in the hospital and their recovery period may be quite difficult.

Patients with diabetes heal longer especially if their blood sugar levels are not managed efficiently. So with these high-risk patients, a thorough analysis of the risk-benefit ratio of undergoing surgery needs to be done beforehand.

8) Respiratory problems after surgery

Patients in general can be readily weaned off the ventilator after surgery. However, some patients experience difficulty breathing postoperatively, so they may need the breathing machine longer. In severe cases, patients require transfer to a rehabilitation facility to improve their breathing capacity until they can be completely free from the support of the ventilator.

This postoperative problem is more common among patients with pulmonary conditions or chronic diseases. Smokers and those who needed ventilator support before surgery are also at risk of developing respiratory problems after surgery.

9) Infections after surgery

Like an ordinary wound, a surgical incision provides microorganisms access into the body. Although the operating room is clean and the surgical tools used were sterile, the possibility of infection is not totally lost.

Postoperative infections can occur in the incision site or inside the body when pathogens enter the bloodstream. Those who undergo surgery due to an infective disease are more prone to develop postoperative infections too. Antibiotic therapy is therefore necessary to either prevent or treat infection. In addition, extra precautions need to be taken when cleaning the surgical wound and changing dressings to prevent infection.

10) Neurological risks of surgery

Although uncommon, injury to the nervous system can happen during a surgical procedure. Many patients experience a numbing or tingling sensation around the surgical area. For most patients, this may be temporary; but for some, this may become a long-term complication.

This may be due to accidental cutting of a peripheral nerve during surgery. Depending on the location and type of the injury, the nerve may undergo regeneration, leading to the return of sensation in a few weeks or months. But if the nerve does not regenerate, the numbness and tingling sensation can be permanent.

Paralysis is one of the most severe neurological complications of surgery. Although very uncommon, it can occur as a postoperative complication of surgeries such as those involving the brain and spinal cord.

11) Poor or unfavorable outcome

Surgical outcome can be considered poor or unfavorable if the endpoint of the surgery is not achieved, or if another surgery is required for any reason.

Severe scarring is another unfavorable outcome of surgery. Although scarring is a normal occurrence after surgery and cannot be prevented, severe scarring is not and may be preventable.

The occurrence of poor or unfavorable outcome may be minimized by having a skilled surgeon perform the surgery. But in certain cases, unfavorable results may not be prevented, particularly if the problem is worse than expected or if additional problems are encountered during the operation.

12) Swollen or bruised incision site

Swelling or bruising in the incision site is considered a normal aspect of the healing process. However, these reactions may be aggravated by several factors such as the type of surgery, the amount of force applied to carry out the surgery, the patient’s complexion, as well as the quality of postoperative care given.

The healing process may be sped up by cold compresses and other measures, while bruising may be worsened by certain medications. For most surgical procedures, surgeons are generally able to offer an estimated time for bruising and swelling to completely disappear.

Depending on your specific condition and the type of surgery to be performed, these risks may either be increased or reduced. The most important thing to do is to discuss these things among others with your doctor prior to surgery.