Eight Common Complications After Surgery And When To Call Your Doctor

As with most things in life, surgery comes with some degree of risk. That means it is possible you could experience an unexpected complication when you go home from the hospital after surgery. Some complications are minor and will go away without any further intervention. Others are more serious and require that you contact a medical professional right away. Below are some of the most common complications after surgery as well as how you can recognize them.

  1. Anesthesia Reaction

    It is common to have mild and short-lived reactions to anesthesia, the medication used to put you into a deep sleep and prevent you from feeling pain during surgery. Some of these include nausea, confusion, sore throat, itching, and body chills. It is rare to experience a severe reaction to anesthesia, such as memory loss that lasts for more than a few days. However, you should let your doctor know about any reaction that does not seem normal to you.

    People with certain health conditions have a higher risk of experiencing memory loss that lasts longer than expected. You should let your doctor know if you have Alzheimer’s, heart disease, lung disease, Parkinson’s, or if you have suffered a stroke in the past.

  2. Bathroom Challenges

    Urinating and producing a bowel movement can both be a challenge after surgery. Some types of anesthesia interfere with the ability to start your urine stream. If this becomes a persistent problem, speak to your doctor about the possibility of having a catheter inserted. Most patients will only need to do this for a short time. If the problem is constipation, your doctor can recommend a specific laxative or stool softener as well as dietary changes you can make to overcome this common difficulty.

  3. Blood Clots

    Lying in bed for long periods during and after surgery can increase the likelihood of developing blood clots. One that is especially dangerous is deep vein thrombosis because it can lead to a pulmonary embolism. This is most common after surgery involving the belly or leg. When the blood deep within your body clots, your leg may become painful, red, and swollen but you also could have no symptoms.

    A pulmonary embolism happens when the blood clot travels to the lungs. Typical symptoms include shortness of breath, chest pain, and coughing. Because this is a medical emergency, you need to seek help right away. Moving as soon as possible after surgery helps blood to flow as it should.

  4. Breathing Difficulty

    Anesthesia temporarily changes the way you breathe as well as controls any coughing urges during surgery. Some people develop a build-up of mucus in their lungs due to anesthesia and experience pain when they push air out of their nose and mouth or breathe air in.

    If a lung collapses, you will likely have shortness of breath, blue skin or lips, and a rapid heart or breathing rate. You should contact your doctor immediately if you have any of these symptoms. One way to prevent breathing problems after surgery is to move around as soon as possible. Forced coughing also helps to clear mucus from lungs.

  5. Fever

    A fever above 101 degrees Fahrenheit means that recovery from surgery is not progressing as it should. Be sure to report this to your doctor immediately and follow his or her advice for getting the fever to break.

  6. Infection

    Minor infections that affect the skin around your surgical site usually do not require additional treatment. However, symptoms such as a fever, draining of pus or fluid from the surgery site, or swelling and redness around the site of the cut indicate that the infection could be more serious. You will need to seek immediate medical attention in this situation.

    Certain risk factors increase the likelihood of post-surgical infection, including being overweight, having diabetes, smoking, older age, and undergoing an emergency surgery that lasts for more than a few hours. Washing your hands frequently with hand sanitizer or soap can help reduce the risk of infection. The people who come to visit you after surgery should do the same.

  7. Muscle Loss

    Lying in bed all day can cause a one percent loss of muscle for younger people and a five percent loss of muscle in older people. This occurs after just one day. Unfortunately, weak muscles mean that you can expect your recovery to take longer. You should plan to sit up, get out of bed, and move as soon as your doctor says it is okay.

  8. Pain

    Long-lasting or severe pain after surgery is not normal. This is thanks in large part to the availability of less invasive surgeries. Since they don’t require as much cutting, you should experience less pain and for a shorter duration than you would with a more invasive procedure. Do not feel like you must suffer through non-surgical pain when so many options for pain relief exist. Just speak to your doctor to determine which method is right for you. Good pain control is essential for long-term recovery and avoidance of complications such as pneumonia.


Please contact the UHC Physician Referral Line at 1-800-607-8888 if you have additional questions about post-surgical complications.

Please note, the information provided throughout this site is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. All content, including text, graphics, images, and video, on or available through this website is for general information purposes only. If you are experiencing related symptoms, please visit your doctor or call 9-1-1 in an emergency.