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Your surgery date is on the calendar. Now what?

By Dr. Pier Boutin, MD

This is the first in a special 3-part series on how women can prepare for surgery to minimize stress and optimize their recovery. Don’t miss part 2: 18 steps to no-stress surgery prep; and part 3: Bouncing back after surgery.

In an average year, women in the U.S. will undergo upwards of 22 million surgical procedures, from C-sections and cancer surgeries to knee replacements, cosmetic procedures and hysterectomies. While it’s always a good idea to get a second opinion and find out if a non-surgical approach can help, sometimes surgery is unavoidable or simply in the best interests of your health.

woman prepping for surgery

Do you have an upcoming surgery date looming? As a surgeon, I know how anxiety-inducing it can be to contemplate surgery and post-op recovery. You may be dreading what’s to come, but here’s the truth: women who take the time to prepare for surgery have an easier and less stressful build-up and recovery.

So, what should you do before the big day? Here are some general guidelines that can help you prepare. Consult your doctor about the best steps for your situation. 

Prepare for surgery by exercising 

Unless your doctor advises you otherwise (e.g., your condition requires bed rest), continue with your regular exercise routine right up to your surgery date. As research consistently shows, exercising before surgery can improve recovery in thoracic, abdominal and joint replacement surgeries, and other major procedures. Patients who exercise pre-operatively also have a lower incidence of extended rehabilitation care. 

Haven’t exercised much lately? I encourage my more sedentary patients prepping for surgery, especially seniors, to consider a stretching program or join a strength and balance class twice a week to get some gentle exercise. Every bit helps! 

Prepare for surgery by getting your teeth cleaned 

Make it a priority to have your bi-annual teeth cleaning before major surgery so that you can find and address any periodontal or dental problems. If present, bacteria from a dental disease – most often gum disease or periodontitis – can transfer from the mouth to the vulnerable tissues affected by the surgery. According to the CDC, nearly 50% of adults in the United States today have some degree of periodontal disease. When you have your teeth cleaning and check-up, let your dentist know you have an upcoming surgery. 

Prepare for surgery by supplementing with key nutrients 

Vitamin and mineral supplements helpful to take before surgery are those that minimize inflammation and aid tissue repair. Your needs may vary, but here are the supplements I generally recommend for my patients: 

  • Vitamin A: 25,000 IU/day. Increases immune function. (Pregnant women should not use high doses of Vitamin A.)
  • Vitamin C: 500 mg twice a day for at least 5 days. Required for synthesis of collagen in tendon, ligament, bone and blood vessels. Promotes healing of connective tissue. 
  • Vitamin D: 2000-5000 IU of Vitamin D3 per day. Orthopedic surgery patients with low Vitamin D levels do not recover as well. Have your Vitamin D levels checked before surgery, and adjust dosage accordingly.
  • Flavonoids: 500-1,000 mg, 2-3 times per day. Reduces scar formation and adhesions. 
  • Magnesium Taurate or Elemental Magnesium: 200 – 400 mg at bedtime. The stress on the body from surgery depletes the body’s stores of magnesium. Magnesium regularizes heart rate and promotes circulation. Magnesium also helps with sleep.
  • Proteolytic Enzymes: Bromelain 250 mg, 2-3 times a day, or Pancreatin capsules, 1,400 mg, 2-3 capsules, 3 times per day. Enzymes reduce inflammation and swelling at the surgical site.
  • Zinc: Take 30-50 mg of zinc picolinate or zinc gluconate daily. Zinc is essential for wound healing and immunity. 

Stop taking these supplements and medications 

Approximately 2-3 weeks before surgery, I recommend to my patients to stop all anti-inflammatory medications and certain supplements that increase the risk of post-surgery bleeding. These include Advil, Motrin, Aleve, Celebrex, Meloxicam, Indocin, Voltaren and other arthritis medications. Supplements to temporarily stop include Vitamin E, gingko biloba, fish oil, omega-3 fatty acids, diet pills and glucosamine/chondroitin sulfate. Let your doctor know about any OTC and prescription medications and supplements you take and follow their recommendations. 

Stop Smoking 

Need a reason to finally quit smoking? Your upcoming surgery may have just provided one. Smoking decreases blood flow and makes surgical wounds take longer to close and heal well. Smokers are more likely to develop post-surgery infections compared to non-smokers. As countless studies show, smokers also run a higher chance of serious complications following surgery, including heart attack, stroke, shock and death. Prepare for surgery and recovery by making a plan to quit — now.

You can call the CDC’s National Quitline 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669) for free support to stop smoking. 

Start planning your post-op care now 

Use your time a few weeks out from surgery to fill out paperwork, make arrangements with friends and family members, and take care of all the “busy work” of planning for your surgery and recovery. 

Remember to plan for pet care and/or babysitting or child care. Make arrangements for help at home after major surgery. Create a notarized living will. (Generic forms are available online.) Also, find out about taking extended time off work. It’s important to allow time to rest and recover. Patients who continue to work suffer from exhaustion as well as pain. Check into coverage from the Family Medical Leave Act. 

While you still have time, prioritize good self-care habits by getting enough sleep. Regularly practice deep breathing and other relaxation techniques so you have tools to help you reduce stress and stay calm. 

Visualize your surgery and recovery going well — and give yourself every opportunity to make this happen. 

In Part 2 of our series, find out how to show up for your surgery prepared and ready for the big day

Last Updated: September 21, 2023
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