What is surgery?
Surgery is a medical procedure in which doctors make a cut in your body to treat a disease, injury, or other health problem. Some examples of surgery are taking out a tumor, opening a blockage in your intestine, or attaching a blood vessel in a new place to help blood flow to part of your body.
Emergency surgery treats a life-threatening problem right away, such as repairing a burst artery
Urgent surgery treats a serious problem within hours, such as removing an inflamed appendix
Elective surgery treats a problem that can wait until you're ready to have it fixed, such as replacing a knee joint or removing wrinkles on your face to help your appearance (cosmetic surgery)
Doctors sometimes refer to surgeries as major or minor.
Major surgery usually involves doctors cutting into your belly area, chest, or head. A team of doctors does this surgery in a hospital operating room while you're unconscious. Afterward, you'll usually stay one or more nights in the hospital.
Minor surgery doesn't involve opening up a big part of your body and doesn't usually affect your major organs. One doctor rather than a team may do this surgery in a hospital or other location (such as a doctor's office). Usually, you go home the same day.
If your doctor recommends that you have surgery, you may first want to get a second opinion Getting a Second Opinion Despite many similarities in training, doctors may vary in their opinions about how to diagnose or treat certain disorders. Such differences can occur among the best of doctors. Differences... read more , where you tell another doctor about your health problem and ask how that doctor would treat it. This lets you compare their treatment advice to your regular doctor's advice.
Keyhole surgery is surgery that uses smaller incisions (cuts) than traditional surgery. Doctors do the surgery using a tiny video camera, lights, and surgical instruments inserted into small cuts in your body. Keyhole surgery has advantages compared to traditional surgery, such as:
Less damage to tissue
Shorter hospital stay
Quicker return to work
Keyhole surgery also has some disadvantages, such as:
Surgery takes longer
It's more difficult for doctors
Pain after surgery may be greater than you expect
Why do doctors do surgery?
Doctors use surgery to find problems, such as to:
Get a sample of tissue to look at under a microscope (biopsy)
In emergencies, find and treat problems such as bleeding from a wound
Doctors also use surgery to fix problems, such as to:
Remove tissue, such as an abscess or tumor
Open a blockage
Attach arteries and veins in new places so blood can flow to areas that don’t get enough
Transplant Overview of Transplantation Transplantation is the removal of living, functioning cells, tissues, or organs from the body and then their transfer back into the same body or into a different body. The most common type of... read more organs, such as skin, kidneys, or a liver from one person to another
Replace blood vessels or tissue with natural or man-made materials
How is pain controlled during surgery?
An anesthetic is something that blocks you from feeling pain or makes you unconscious. Analgesics are medicines that lessen pain. Before surgery, a doctor or nurse practitioner will give you anesthesia to keep you from feeling pain during the surgery.
Types of anesthesia:
Local anesthesia numbs one particular spot—for example, a doctor may inject lidocaine into the skin on your arm before taking off a skin growth
Regional anesthesia numbs an area of your body because the medicine is injected into one or more nerves—for example, an epidural during childbirth
General anesthesia makes you unconscious by giving you medicine that goes into your bloodstream—during surgery, the doctor giving anesthesia will keep checking your breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure, and you may need a breathing tube or ventilator
What happens before, during, and after surgery?
Before you have surgery, your doctor and their care team will explain what you can expect to happen before, during, and after the operation.
Getting ready for surgery
Doctors will tell you how to get ready for your surgery. They may have you:
Stop eating and drinking 8 hours before surgery
Stop drinking alcohol
Stop taking certain medicine, such as blood thinners
Donate blood in case you need additional blood during surgery
Sign a form to show you are agreeing to the surgery and understand the risks (informed consent)
Leave jewelry and valuables at home
Change into a hospital gown and take off hearing aids, contact lenses, eyeglasses, rings, or other jewelry
Doctors will give you anesthesia. If you have local or regional anesthesia, doctors may also give you antianxiety medicine to keep you calm and relaxed during surgery.
Sometimes doctors will put a tube (catheter) into your bladder to collect your urine. You may also have an IV into your arm for medicine and fluid.
If you're having major surgery, you'll be taken to an operating room with medical machines and instruments. The care team usually includes doctors who will do the surgery, a doctor who makes sure the anesthesia is working, nurses, and other health care professionals.
In the Operating Room
The operating room provides a sterile environment in which the operating team can do surgery. The operating team consists of the following:
The operating room typically contains a monitor that displays vital signs, an instrument table, and an operating lamp. Anesthetic gases are piped into the anesthetic machine. A catheter attached to a suction machine removes excess blood and other fluids, which can prevent surgeons from seeing the tissues clearly. Fluids given by vein, started before the person enters the operating room, are continued.
After the operation, doctors will take you to a recovery room for an hour or two. They'll make sure that you're thinking clearly, breathing well, and have enough medicines to relieve your pain as the anesthesia wears off. Depending on the type of surgery and anesthesia you had, doctors will either let you go home or have you stay in the hospital.
If you go home after surgery, your doctors first make sure you:
Are able to drink fluids, urinate, and walk
Are free from severe pain, bleeding, and unexpected swelling in the surgical area
Schedule a follow-up visit with your doctor
Understand how to take your medicines
Know which activities to avoid, such as climbing stairs or driving a car
Know which symptoms are signs that you should call the doctor
If you stay overnight in the hospital after surgery, doctors will:
Use one or more medical devices, such as a tube that drains urine from your bladder or a small device on a finger that measures the oxygen level of your blood
Give you medicines to relieve pain and sometimes stool softeners to help prevent constipation (trouble passing stool)
Make sure you get healthy food to help you heal and lower the chance of infection, and sometimes give liquid food through a tube in your throat if you can't eat solid foods yet
Check you for possible problems such as fever or blood clots
How safe is surgery?
The safety of surgery depends on the type of surgery and how healthy you are. The risk of death in surgery increases with age. Emergency surgery is usually riskier than planned surgeries. Even when there are risks to surgery, they may be outweighed by the potential benefits.
Complications that can develop after surgery include:
Problems with urination or passing stool
Loss of muscle and strength
Call your doctor if you have medical problems after surgery.