When to seek help after an operation

After an operation, it can be hard to know which signs and symptoms are normal, and which are not. This article looks at common warning signs which may indicate that you’re not OK, and need to seek help.

Many things can change and feel different after an operation. You’re likely to be experiencing pain, and may have been prescribed medications which you haven’t taken before. Some of these medications may make you feel drowsy or sleepy, or you may just not be feeling like yourself.

That’s why in the first 24 hours after you leave hospital, it’s important you don’t:
  • Operate dangerous machinery or tools
  • Sign legal documents
  • Drink Alcohol
  • Drive 

While it’s normal to feel a little bit different after an operation when you’re recovering, there are certain symptoms which are not normal and which may indicate something is wrong, and you should seek help. 

It’s important to contact your doctor if you:
  • Have a fever (a temperature of 38.5 degrees Celsius or higher)
  • Have any unexpected bleeding
  • Have pain which is not controlled by your pain relief medicines
  • Have ongoing sleep problems
  • Your wound has redness, pain, swelling or yellowish discharge
  • Have swelling in one of your legs or pain in your calf muscle
  • Are not managing your tasks of daily life like dressing yourself, showering or preparing meals
  • You are feeling down and it’s not getting better
  • You have any other problems which your doctor has warned you about. 
boy having his temperature taken
Post-operative Fever:
If you have a fever (i.e. a temperature of 38.5°C or higher) in the first 2 days after your procedure it is likely to be caused by inflammation in the body following the surgery. However, after 2 days, a fever may indicate you have an infection. Your doctor will be able to assess you and may do some blood tests. If there is a risk of infection, you may need antibiotics.
Post Op Blues:
After an operation, some people can feel down. This can be a reaction to the general anaesthetic, pain and discomfort, lack of mobility, and increased dependency on others. But if this doesn’t start to lift as you recover and resume normal activities, you may be experiencing depression. For more information on post op blues and tips for managing it, click here.  
Prevention is the best medicine, so if you’re preparing for an operation or if you have recently been discharged from hospital, it’s important to look after yourself, and help yourself recover. Click here for tips on how to help yourself recover after an operation. 
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