Discharge Instructions: After Your Surgery

You’ve just had surgery. During surgery, you were given medicine called anesthesia to keep you relaxed and free of pain. After surgery, you may have some pain or nausea. This is common. Here are some tips for feeling better and getting well after surgery.

Man putting pill in his mouth while holding glass of water.

Going home

Your healthcare provider will show you how to take care of yourself when you go home. He or she will also answer your questions. Have an adult family member or friend drive you home. For the first 24 hours after your surgery:

  • Do not drive or use heavy equipment.

  • Do not make important decisions or sign legal papers.

  • Do not drink alcohol.

  • Have someone stay with you, if needed. He or she can watch for problems and help keep you safe.

Be sure to go to all follow-up visits with your healthcare provider. And rest after your surgery for as long as your healthcare provider tells you to.

Coping with pain

If you have pain after surgery, pain medicine will help you feel better. Take it as told, before pain becomes severe. Also, ask your healthcare provider or pharmacist about other ways to control pain. This might be with heat, ice, or relaxation. And follow any other instructions your surgeon or nurse gives you.

Tips for taking pain medicine

To get the best relief possible, remember these points:

  • Pain medicines can upset your stomach. Taking them with a little food may help.

  • Most pain relievers taken by mouth need at least 20 to 30 minutes to start to work.

  • Taking medicine on a schedule can help you remember to take it. Try to time your medicine so that you can take it before starting an activity. This might be before you get dressed, go for a walk, or sit down for dinner.

  • Constipation is a common side effect of pain medicines. Call your healthcare provider before taking any medicines such as laxatives or stool softeners to help ease constipation. Also ask if you should skip any foods. Drinking lots of fluids and eating foods such as fruits and vegetables that are high in fiber can also help. Remember, do not take laxatives unless your surgeon has prescribed them.

  • Drinking alcohol and taking pain medicine can cause dizziness and slow your breathing. It can even be deadly. Do not drink alcohol while taking pain medicine.

  • Pain medicine can make you react more slowly to things. Do not drive or run machinery while taking pain medicine.

Your healthcare provider may tell you to take acetaminophen to help ease your pain. Ask him or her how much you are supposed to take each day. Acetaminophen or other pain relievers may interact with your prescription medicines or other over-the-counter (OTC) medicines. Some prescription medicines have acetaminophen and other ingredients. Using both prescription and OTC acetaminophen for pain can cause you to overdose. Read the labels on your OTC medicines with care. This will help you to clearly know the list of ingredients, how much to take, and any warnings. It may also help you not take too much acetaminophen. If you have questions or do not understand the information, ask your pharmacist or healthcare provider to explain it to you before you take the OTC medicine.

Managing nausea

Some people have an upset stomach after surgery. This is often because of anesthesia, pain, or pain medicine, or the stress of surgery. These tips will help you handle nausea and eat healthy foods as you get better. If you were on a special food plan before surgery, ask your healthcare provider if you should follow it while you get better. These tips may help:

  • Do not push yourself to eat. Your body will tell you when to eat and how much.

  • Start off with clear liquids and soup. They are easier to digest.

  • Next try semi-solid foods, such as mashed potatoes, applesauce, and gelatin, as you feel ready.

  • Slowly move to solid foods. Don’t eat fatty, rich, or spicy foods at first.

  • Do not force yourself to have 3 large meals a day. Instead eat smaller amounts more often.

  • Take pain medicines with a small amount of solid food, such as crackers or toast, to avoid nausea.


Call your surgeon if…

  • You still have pain an hour after taking medicine. The medicine may not be strong enough.

  • You feel too sleepy, dizzy, or groggy. The medicine may be too strong.

  • You have side effects like nausea, vomiting, or skin changes, such as rash, itching, or hives. 


If you have obstructive sleep apnea

You were given anesthesia medicine during surgery to keep you comfortable and free of pain. After surgery, you may have more apnea spells because of this medicine and other medicines you were given. The spells may last longer than usual. 

At home:

  • Keep using the continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device when you sleep. Unless your healthcare provider tells you not to, use it when you sleep, day or night. CPAP is a common device used to treat obstructive sleep apnea.

  • Talk with your provider before taking any pain medicine, muscle relaxants, or sedatives. Your provider will tell you about the possible dangers of taking these medicines.