Discomforts and Complications After Surgery

What are some common postoperative discomforts?

The amount of discomfort following surgery depends on the type of surgery performed. Some typical discomforts include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Nausea and vomiting (from general anesthesia)

  • Soreness in the throat (if the patient needs artificial ventilation; caused by a tube placed in the windpipe to assist breathing during surgery)

  • Soreness and swelling around the incision site

  • Restlessness and sleeplessness

  • Thirst

  • Constipation and flatulence

What complications may occur after surgery?

Sometimes complications can occur following surgery. The following are the most common complications, as defined by the American Medical Association. However, individuals may experience complications and discomforts differently. Specific treatment for any post-surgical complication(s) will be based on:

  • Your child's age, overall health, and medical history

  • The extent of the condition

  • The type of surgery performed

  • Your child's tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies

  • Your opinion or preference

Postsurgical complications may include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Shock. Shock is the dangerous reduction of blood flow throughout the body. Shock is most often caused by reduced blood pressure. Treatment may include the following:

    • Stopping any blood loss

    • Maintaining an open airway

    • Keeping the child flat

    • Reducing heat loss with blankets

    • Intravenous (IV) infusion of fluid or blood

    • Oxygen therapy

    • Medication

  • Hemorrhage. Hemorrhage means bleeding. Rapid hemorrhage (blood loss) from the site of surgery, for example, can lead to shock. Treatment of rapid blood loss may include:

    • Infusions of saline solution and plasma preparation to help replace fluids

    • Blood transfusion

    • Stopping the bleeding with sutures (stitches), cautery (sealing damaged blood vessels with heat), or by repairing or removing damaged organs or tissues

  • Wound infection. When bacteria enter the site of surgery, an infection can result. Infections can delay healing. Wound infections can spread to adjacent organs or tissue, or to distant areas through the blood stream. Treatment of wound infections may include:

    • Antibiotics

    • Draining of any abscesses (collections of pus under the skin caused by infection)

    • Opening the incision to remove the infected material

  • Pulmonary (lung) complications. Pulmonary complications can arise due to lack of deep breathing in the first few days after surgery. Discomfort after an operation can make it hard to take deep breaths or cough to clear mucus out of the lungs. Deep breathing exercises may be recommended to help keep the lungs healthy after surgery. Your child will be given a breathing toy called an incentive spirometer to help him/her breathe deeply. Symptoms of pulmonary complications may include:

    • Wheezing

    • Chest pain

    • Fever

    • Cough

  • Urinary retention. Temporary urine retention, or the inability to empty the bladder, may occur after surgery. Urinary retention is caused by the anesthetic, and is usually treated by the insertion of a catheter to drain the bladder until your child regains bladder control.

  • Reaction to anesthesia. Although rare, reactions to anesthetics do occur. Symptoms may include:

    • Light-headedness

    • Wheezing

    • Rash

    • Low blood pressure

    • High temperature

    • Liver problems

    • Agitation and confusion

The likelihood that complications of surgery will occur vary with each child and with each operation. Always consult your child's surgeon and anesthesiologist for more information.