You might be told you need surgery for any number of medical issues. Some may seem simpler than others, which might appear downright scary.
But a patient's reaction is usually based on incomplete information. To fill in these blanks, you need to ask the right questions.
After all, it's your body and it’s your disease; you should feel comfortable asking those questions before you enter into something as major as surgery.
How do you know what questions to ask? Robert Cima, M.D., a surgeon and chair of Mayo Clinic’s surgical quality subcommittee, says your family and friends can help in that area. They probably have questions that haven't even occurred to you.
Beyond that, he suggests adding these 5 questions for your doctor to the list:
Are you board-certified to perform this procedure?
Don't assume the answer is yes. Board certification is a credential that physicians earn in addition to state medical licenses. It's a sign that a surgeon has studied and become qualified to perform a particular type of operation, such as cardiovascular surgery.
“They are recognized by the institution as well as the national organizing body for that specialty as having met all the important standards for practice, competency and background,” said Cima, who is board-certified in general surgery and colon and rectal surgery.
Board certified surgeons may also have submitted their case logs and had their outcomes reviewed. Once certified, they may be required to be re-certified on a regular basis.
Will it help if I lose weight before the operation?
Being overweight or obese can increase your risk of complications following an operation. Cima says the healthier the weight, the better.
If you are going in for joint replacement surgery, it may be difficult to exercise prior to the operation. If so, discuss a safe and effective diet, high in protein and low in fat, with your surgeon. And building strength can be as important as burning calories.
“Just like an athlete, you’re going to perform better if you’re in better shape and your strength is better,” Cima said. “Surgery is a major event, a physiologic injury, and you have to be able to respond to that.”
Does it matter if I’m a smoker?
You probably already know the answer to that. Smoking is a risk factor for many surgical complications, such as infections, slow healing, pneumonia and cardiovascular problems. Cima says even ending tobacco use just two weeks to a month before surgery can pay off.
“Unfortunately, smoking has significant negative impacts on almost all surgical procedures we’ve looked at,” Cima said. “The nicotine and many of the compounds in tobacco smoke constrict the small blood vessels. You need those blood vessels to be open to bring blood down to the level of the healing wound.”
What if I have sleep apnea?
Sleep apnea can be a problem. As many as 20% of older surgical patients have obstructive sleep apnea, and the breathing disorder has been associated with higher rates of post-surgery complications.
If you have sleep apnea, make sure your surgeon knows. If you’re being treated with a continuous positive airway pressure machine, bring your CPAP machine with you for your hospital stay. If you're not sure you have it but think you run a high risk, ask to be tested.
Cima says Mayo Clinic actually screens for apnea in the postoperative period in the recovery room.
Is there anything we can do to shorten my hospital stay?
In most cases complications are the reason for an extended hospital stay. Avoid complications and you are likely to go home on time, or even early.
One of the biggest complications is infection, but Cima says it's very preventable. A Mayo Clinic study found that simply having patients shower with an antiseptic cleanser the day before and the day of surgery can help reduce infection risk.
The bottom line? Entering the hospital for surgery as an “optimized patient” – at a healthy weight, not smoking and aware of any complicating conditions – may make surgery a little less scary than it might seem.