Q&A: What You Should Know Before Surgery




Preparing for Surgery

Q: What about eating, drinking or smoking before my anesthesia?

A: As a general rule, you should not eat or drink anything after midnight before your surgery. Under some circumstances, you may be given permission by your anesthesiologist to drink clear liquids up to a few hours before your anesthesia.

If you smoke, the sooner you quit before surgery the better. Click here for more information about Smokers and Surgery.

Q: Will I need someone to take me home?

A: Yes, you must make arrangements for a responsible adult to take you home after your anesthetic or sedation. You will not be allowed to leave alone or drive yourself home. It is strongly suggested that you have someone stay with you during the first 24 hours.

If you have local anesthesia only, with no sedation, it may be possible to go home without someone to accompany you. Check with your doctor first.

Q: Should I take my usual medicines?

A: Some medications should be taken and others should not. It is important to discuss this with your anesthesiologist. Do not interrupt medications unless your anesthesiologist or surgeon recommends it.

Q: What should I wear?

A: If at all possible, wear loose-fitting clothes that are easy to put on and will fit over bulky bandages or surgical dressings. Leave your jewelry and valuables at home.

Day of Surgery

Q: What happens before my surgery?

A: You most likely will meet the anesthesiologist who will care for you on the day of your surgery before you go into the operating room. Your anesthesiologist will review your medical and anesthesia history and the results of any laboratory tests and will answer any questions you may have.

Nurses will record your vital signs, and your anesthesiologist and surgeon will visit with you, completing any evaluations and laboratory tests. Intravenous fluids will be started and preoperative medications given, if needed. Once in the operating room, monitoring devices will be attached such as a blood pressure cuff, EKG and other devices for your safety. At this point, you will be ready for anesthesia.

Q: What happens during my surgery?

A: Your anesthesiologist is personally responsible for your comfort and well-being. He or she leads the anesthesia care team to monitor as well as manage your vital body functions during your surgery. Your anesthesiologist also is responsible for managing medical problems that might arise related to surgery as well as any chronic medical conditions you may have, such as asthma, diabetes, high blood pressure or heart problems. A member of your anesthesia team will be with you throughout your procedure.

Q: What can I expect after the operation until I go home?

A: After surgery, you will be taken to the post-anesthesia care unit, often called the recovery room. Your anesthesiologist will direct the monitoring and medications needed for your safe recovery. For about the first 30 minutes, you will be watched closely by specially trained nurses. During this period, you may be given extra oxygen, and your breathing and heart functions will be observed closely.

In some facilities, you may then be moved to another area where you will continue to recover, and family or friends may be allowed to be with you. Here you may be offered something to drink, and you will be assisted in getting up.

Q: Will I have any side effects?

A: The amount of discomfort you experience will depend on a number of factors, especially the type of surgery. Your doctors and nurses can relieve pain after your surgery with medicines given by mouth, injection or by numbing the area around the incision Your discomfort should be tolerable, but do not expect to be totally pain-free.

Nausea or vomiting may be related to anesthesia, the type of surgical procedure or postoperative pain medications. Although less of a problem today because of improved anesthetic agents and techniques, these side effects continue to occur for some patients.

Medications to minimize postoperative pain, nausea and vomiting are often given by your anesthesiologist during the surgical procedure and in recovery.

Q: When will I be able to go home?

A: This will depend on the policy of the surgery center, the type of surgery and the anesthesia used. Most patients are ready to go home one to four hours after surgery. Your anesthesiologist will be able to give you a more specific time estimate. Occasionally, it is necessary to stay overnight. All ambulatory surgical facilities have arrangements with a hospital if this is medically necessary.

Q: What instructions will I receive?

A: Both written and verbal instructions will be given. Most facilities have both general instructions and instructions that apply specifically to your surgery.

In general, for 24 hours after your anesthesia:

  • Do not drink alcoholic beverages or use nonprescription medications.
  • Do not drive a car or operate dangerous machinery.
  • Do not make important decisions.

You will be given telephone numbers to call if you have any concerns or if you need emergency help after you go home.

Recovery At Home

Q: What can I expect?

A: Be prepared to go home and finish your recovery there. Patients often experience drowsiness and minor after-effects following ambulatory anesthesia, including muscle aches, sore throat and occasional dizziness or headaches. Nausea also may be present, but vomiting is less common. These side effects usually decline rapidly in the hours following surgery, but it may take several days before they are gone completely. The majority of patients do not feel up to their typical activities the next day, usually due to general tiredness or surgical discomfort. Plan to take it easy for a few days until you feel back to normal. Know that a period of recovery at home is common and to be expected.

Q: Your Rights as a Patient

A: Although you will not be spending the night in a hospital, you are still a patient and entitled to the same rights that hospitalized patients receive.You should be given an opportunity to speak to those involved in your anesthesia care. All questions involving how the anesthesia will be administered and the training and qualifications of those providing your anesthesia should be answered fully. Any concerns you have about the facility, billing, pain management and safety equipment should be addressed to your satisfaction before undergoing anesthesia. The professionals caring for you should treat you ethically and respect your privacy and dignity. If you feel uncomfortable about any aspect of your care, you have the right to refuse the planned treatment.

Q: Other Questions

A: Please ask questions. Your experience will be easier if you know what usually happens and what you should expect.

Remember, the focus of ambulatory anesthesia is on you, the patient.

Helpful Links

Tips to Help Parents Prepare Children for Surgery

Information on what to expect.


Anesthesia Topics Quick Links

Choose a topic:

Featured Video:

Smoking and Surgery
Learn why stopping smoking before surgery can have an impact on your outcome.

Play Video

Things You Should Know Before Surgery

What can I expect.


Come Prepared

Ask your anesthesiologist questions about what to expect before, during, and after your procedure.


The ASA does not employ physician anesthesiologists on staff and cannot respond to patient inquiries regarding specific medical conditions or anesthesia administration. Please direct any questions related to anesthetics, procedures or treatment outcomes to the patient’s anesthesiologist or general physician.