What Can Happen After Surgery?

Surgery is an invasive procedure. It could end up with variable outcomes. However, people seem more interested in getting their surgery done, and nobody bothers about the risk of its potential complications.

Surgery risks range from minor discomfort to life-threatening complications.  A patient may experience normal discomfort after surgery. Typical immediate discomforts that occur are nausea and vomiting (as an after-effect of anesthesia), swelling around the incision site, sore throat, sleeplessness, irritation, extreme thirst, and bowel dysfunction. Urinary retention, or the inability to urinate, is a temporary complication caused by anesthesia; It is usually treated with the use of a catheter to empty the bladder until the patient can achieve bladder control.

These are just the common reactions of the human body after an operation. But in many cases, problems and complications other than discomfort can occur following surgery. Complications may need immediate action, because they may be caused by underlying factors, and can sometimes be serious or even life-threatening. Complications and side effects may include:

Pain or discomfort

Pain or discomfort is a common response to incisions made during minor or major surgery. Surgical pain is a very unpleasant condition and can be very difficult to tolerate. Pain may be caused by damaged tissue or organs. It mostly depends on the degree of invasiveness. Also, there may be pain resulting from positioning during surgery, and some other irritations may be caused by the instruments used during operation. There are many types of pain related to surgery, and they are all uncomfortable. If the pain is truly intolerable, there may be an underlying internal cause such as damaged tissue, muscle, or bone. Serious treatment is required after surgery, and proper management is required. Medication and therapy are highly recommended to avoid pain after surgery.


Infection is another complication that can affect a patient’s recovery because it can prolong healing time. According to CDC, almost 1% of surgeries performed in U.S. every year result in infection. Incision sites invite infection to enter the body. These infections if not managed properly could lead to serious complications or even death. It is important to change dressings with proper care after any surgery. Factors that can lead to infection include: a foreign body is left inside the patient’s body, faulty suturing, dehydration, malnutrition, anemia, length of hospitalization, duration of surgery, and some associated disorders such as diabetes mellitus, which cause slow wound healing resulting from blood sugar levels. Signs and symptoms of infection include fever, increased white blood cell count, wound swelling, tenderness, and discharge from the site. In these cases, antibiotics are prescribed. If there is foul fluid present, the incision should be allowed to drain, and foul-looking tissue and debris should be removed. Therapy and further treatment are recommended. The wound should regularly be cleaned to promote healing.


Shock is a dangerous reduction of blood flow in the body and can be very serious when it comes to the brain. It results from low blood pressure, which can be caused by severe fluid or blood loss, heat loss, loss of oxygen, and medication. Management will be based on the cause of shock itself. To stop the blood loss and prevent further complications, an immediate blood transfusion may be needed. Intravenous fluid infusion or a drip may be indicated. Proper ventilation and blankets should be provided to prevent heat loss. Oxygen therapy is required to supply enough oxygen throughout the body and brain. The patient should be monitored intensively until fully recovered.


Hemorrhage or bleeding can lead to shock. Rapid treatment, such as blood transfusion, is necessary.[2] It may result from a minor cut from the incision site or damage in the internal organs. The bleeding may be stopped with sutures, cauterization, or by repairing/removing damaged organs. Patients with hemorrhage should be carefully monitored for shock and have a good I/V access r CVP catheter inserted.

Blood Clots

Blood clots after surgery are also called deep vein thrombosis. They present with swelling of affected leg and pain in the calf. They are frequently seen in orthopedic patients, smokers, obese individuals and immobile patients. The clots can start during surgery because of inactivity. There can be critical complications because the clots may travel through the bloodstream and block organs such as the lungs and the brain, causing serious problems such as pulmonary embolism and stroke.DVT and Pulmonary embolism are the important causes of the post-Surgical complications and death. These complications can be avoided by giving Heparin to thin the blood to help prevent the formation of clots.[1]  


Lack of energy or fatigue is a frequent event following a surgery but is usually ignored. It could be due to general anesthesia or blood loss during surgery. Fatigue gradually improves over time as energy levels increase. A healthy diet should be encouraged to overcome fatigue early.

Lung Complications

Lung complications, or difficulty breathing, may occur due to lack of deep breathing resulting from anesthesia, which depresses the lungs. Some discomfort or pain after the operation makes it difficult to cough and take deep breaths. As a result, mucus inside the lungs does not come out, which may lead to infections such as pneumonia. Deep breathing exercises are recommended, along with remaining in an upright position. Symptoms may include chest pain, wheezing, fever, rales and crackles, phlegm, and shortness of breath.

Another common lung complication occurring after surgery is partial lung collapse or atelectasis. It happens when the patient is unable to breathe air into the lungs. It could be due to post-operative pain that makes it difficult to breathe. Atelectasis can present with shortness of breath and a rapid heartbeat. It can be avoided by doing proper breathing exercises using a device called Incentive spirometer that improves the inhalations and prevents from atelectasis or pneumonia.


Different kinds of complications from different kinds of surgeries on different patients may all lead to slow recovery. The body needs to restore damaged tissues to return to normal. It may take some time until a patient makes a full recovery. It is the doctor’s responsibility to give information and details of the surgery to the patient. And it is the patient’s responsibility to follow instructions. Take one step at a time, because pushing oneself too much to recover may delay the recovery. Discomfort may decrease a little each day. The most suitable way of dealing with it is a positive attitude and cooperation to achieve a common goal – a successful recovery. Even though surgery methods for cancer have become more precise and very advanced, risks and complications are still there.




  1. [1]  Kadous A, Abdelgawad AA, Kanlic E; Deep venous thrombosis and pulmonary embolism after surgical treatment of ankle fractures: a case report and review of literature. J Foot Ankle Surg. 2012 Jul-Aug;51(4):457-63. doi: 10.1053/j.jfas.2012.04.016. Epub 2012 May 24.
  2. [2]   Thomas D, Wee M, Clyburn P, et al; Blood transfusion and the anaesthetist: management of massive haemorrhage. Anaesthesia. 2010 Nov;65(11):1153-61.
  3. Http://www.webmd.com/healthy-aging/features/common-surgery-complications
  4. http://patient.info/doctor/common-postoperative-complications