Shape up for surgery: Tips to improve your health, safety and outcome

(BPT) - More than 50 million surgeries occur every year and patient safety is always the top priority for surgeons or physician anesthesiologists involved in medical care. If you're scheduled for surgery and have weeks or even months to prepare, important actions to improve your health, such as exercising and eating right, can help make surgery as safe as possible. They will also decrease your chances of complications and help you get back on your feet faster.

'Surgery is usually the solution to a problem, whether to replace a painful knee or repair a hernia, but there are always risks,' says Dr. Jane C.K. Fitch, president of the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA). 'Physician anesthesiologists, surgeons and other medical specialists work with patients before, during and after surgery to help ensure a successful outcome.Patients can take control of their own health by having critical conversations with their physicians and getting healthy before surgery.'

So, what can you do to get yourself in shape for surgery? The ASA suggests patients follow these tips:

* Eat healthy: Adjusting your diet to include healthier choices in the weeks leading up to your surgery can help you become stronger and recover quicker. If you have a loss of appetite or recently lost weight without trying, be sure to tell your doctor, who might suggest you see a registered dietitian. The dietitian may prescribe a nutritional supplement to boost your immune system, help prevent infections and shorten your stay in the hospital.

* Stop smoking: Among the many reasons to kick the habit is that smoking and anesthesia - which you'll need during surgery - don't mix. If you smoke, your heart and lungs are compromised and don't function at full capacity. You are also far more likely to suffer breathing and lung-related complications during surgery and are more likely to need a ventilator after surgery. By quitting smoking before surgery, you'll not only decrease the likelihood of these risks, but you're also less likely to have a wound infection, heart attack or other complication.

* Boost your breathing: Taking deep breaths on a spirometer - a simple device that helps you exercise your lungs and improve their function - is a routine activity after most surgeries. Doing these exercises before surgery can help strengthen your lungs so you're less likely to develop pneumonia.

* Control your blood sugar: People with diabetes whose blood sugar (glucose) is not controlled, are more likely to suffer potentially fatal complications following surgery. If you have diabetes, make sure your blood sugar is controlled. If you don't, your immune system may be weaker, making you more vulnerable to pneumonia and other infections. Controlling your blood sugar will help you heal faster and you'll likely spend less time recovering in the hospital.

* Disclose medication use: Prior to surgery, be sure to tell your surgeon and physician anesthesiologist what vitamins, supplements, as well as prescription and over-the-counter medications you are taking. You may need to stop taking some of them until after your surgery because they make your blood less likely to clot and increase the risk of bleeding. The long list of risky medications includes blood thinners such as aspirin, pain relievers such as ibuprofen and common supplements such as St. John's wort and vitamins C and E. Do not stop taking any supplements or medications without asking your physician first.

* Get (or stay) active: If you exercise, keep it up, and if you don't, try to responsibly increase your activity level in the weeks before surgery. The sooner you begin to move around after surgery, the less likely you are to develop blood clots and pneumonia. Consider getting into an exercise program - it can reduce complications and shorten hospital stays.

* Reduce consumption of alcoholic beverages: People who have more than two alcoholic drinks a day are more likely to suffer complications after surgery than light drinkers and those who drink heavily are more than twice as likely to suffer complications that can result in death. Heavy drinkers are also much more likely to get an infection after surgery, have difficulty breathing, and be admitted to the intensive care unit than non-drinkers.

Be your own advocate by following ASA's tips for improving your health, safety and surgical outcomes. For more information about being prepared for surgery and anesthesia, visit

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