How to Improve Hemoglobin Levels Prior to Surgery

What is ‘hemoglobin’?

Hemoglobin is a cellular constituent which carries oxygen within red blood cells to the required tissues. Following releasing its oxygen, the de-saturated hemoglobin would be re-oxygenated in the lungs. When a blood vessel contains oxygen rich, in other words, saturated, hemoglobin, it will appear bright red whereas if it contains de-saturated hemoglobin, it will appear dull red.

What are the consequences of low hemoglobin levels?

The condition known as anemia is due to low blood hemoglobin levels and it can lead to many symptoms which relates to poor oxygen carrying capacity of the blood. Breathlessness, chest pain or chest discomfort, cyanosis, extreme fatigability…etc are some of its manifestations although it can lead to fatal outcomes when the hemoglobin levels fall to extremely low levels or else falls rather rapidly.

What can cause low hemoglobin level?

There can be many reasons for a person to develop low hemoglobin levels and this may include dietary deficiencies such as iron, vitamin B 12 or folate, long term blood loss such as in cases of menorrhagia and gastric ulcer disease, acute blood loss such as in the case of accidents, surgeries, child birth or blood vomiting, cancers as well as hereditary disease conditions which would limit the red blood cell production or its life time.

How does a low hemoglobin level affect a surgery?

When a surgery is performed, there can be damage to blood vessels and it is possible for bleeds to take place. In certain surgical interventions, the bleeding could be much worse than certain other surgeries which sometimes may not bleed at all. When the patient tends to have a low hemoglobin level, even a lesser bleed may give rise to a life threatening event and would have a detrimental effect on the recovery of the patient. As such, these patients may require blood transfusions in order to prevent such extensive loses which would expose the person to another set of risks apart from the effects pertaining to the surgical process.

What can be done to improve the low hemoglobin levels prior to surgery?

The first thing would be to detect the hemoglobin level through a blood test and determine if it would interfere with the surgical process. Usually, the surgeon or the anesthetist would ask you to undertake these tests and depending on the reports they will advise you to take certain measures. Therefore, you should,

-Undertake certain other tests such as blood picture to assess the exact cause for the low hemoglobin levels.

-Improve the dietary intake of iron rich foods and other sources of folate and vitamins.

-Treat any bleeding manifestations to avoid further blood loss prior to and in the recovery phase of the surgery.

-Take supplements to enhance the production of red blood cells and therefore improve the hemoglobin levels in the blood after consulting your surgical team.

-Undergo blood transfusion in case it is vital for you to have adequate hemoglobin levels and the surgery is of urgent nature.

As you can see, given its importance, it is vital for you to obtain advice from the surgical team in order to be in the best possible shape for the surgery, including ways to improve your hemoglobin levels if it had been found to be low.