Planning for Surgery: Medical History and Testing

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Your medical history

As you work with your doctor to plan your surgery, you’ll be asked about your medical history. Your medical history plays an important part in keeping you safe during surgery. This is not a time to hold back any information, even if you think it's irrelevant or find it embarrassing. Tell your doctor or the hospital staff EVERYTHING. No matter what kind of operation you're having, you must inform your doctor of 1) any past bad reactions to procedures or medications (including allergies) 2) any drugs you're presently taking or have just stopped taking (prescription, non-prescription, "recreational"), and 3) any vitamins and herbal supplements you’re taking. Your doctor will ask you to stop taking aspirin and any non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (such as ibuprofen) several weeks before surgery.

Some medications you take can have serious effects on your body's ability to handle the shock of surgery and heal well afterwards. Again, no one wants any surprises during surgery.

Donating blood

Some doctors recommend that you donate a pint or two of your own blood for the bigger operations, such as mastectomy and reconstruction. This is just to make sure that some of your own blood is on hand if it is needed. While donated blood is rarely necessary, having it there may make you feel more comfortable. If you’re interested in donating your own blood, keep in mind that doing so requires planning ahead a few weeks to allow enough time to give the needed number of units. Talk to your doctor about whether you need to donate your own blood.

Preoperative testing

In the weeks or days before surgery, you’ll need to have tests to make sure your body can handle the anesthesia and the operation. Although you may not need every one of these tests, here are the most common tests:

  • A chest x-ray and electrocardiogram (EKG) will show whether your lungs and heart are working properly.
  • Blood tests will check your blood counts, your liver and kidney function, and your risk of bleeding or infection.
  • A urine test can find out about your kidney function and look for infections.
  • Sometimes other tests, such as CAT scans, are given to check for tumor location and size. A CAT scan can also determine whether a tumor is involved with other parts of the body.

You may also be asked whether you have diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, or other conditions that could affect surgery.

Surgery and your menstrual cycle

There is still some question about whether the timing of surgery in relation to the menstrual cycle has any effect on its success. You may want to discuss this with your doctor.

Expert Quote

"Patients are so much more involved with the entire process today than in the past. There's just more stuff to do before you have surgery, and that's because there are so many more options available. On the flip side, there are many more consultations that you need to coordinate. We break it down and slow it down, so that when people make a decision they feel more in control, and more committed to their decision."

-- Anne Rosenberg, M.D.

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