How to Prevent Vomiting After Surgery

Vomiting after surgery is an unpleasant experience – and one that’s common. What causes nausea and after a surgical procedure – and can you prevent it?

Undergoing surgery can be stressful – and even a bit frightening. Not only is it unpleasant to wake up in pain, some unfortunate people have severe nausea and vomiting after surgery. For some, this is the most unpleasant part of the experience. Studies show that three out of ten patients have significant nausea or vomiting after surgery. What causes post-surgical vomiting – and can it be prevented?

Vomiting After Surgery: What Causes It?

Nausea and vomiting after surgery is usually due to anesthesia side effects and the effects of pain medications. These medications target pain receptors, but they’re so non-specific they also hit receptors in the brain that cause nausea and vomiting. People who get surgery that involves manipulation of nerves that feed into the vomiting centers in the brain, such as intestinal surgery, are more likely to wake up retching.

Certain characteristics predispose a person to nausea and vomiting after surgery. Women are more likely to have it, as are folks who have a history of vomiting after surgery. People who get motion sickness and those who don’t smoke are also at higher risk. This is one time smoking may actually work in your favor. Vomiting after surgery is most common after procedures that use general anesthesia. Surgery that uses I.V. sedation or a local anesthetic is less likely to cause nausea unless pain medications are given at the same time.

Can You Prevent Nausea and Vomiting After Surgery?

Anesthesiologists can be a powerful ally in the fight against post-surgical vomiting. They can give you anti-nausea medications during surgery or oral nausea medications to take before going into the operating room.  Another option is to ask the surgeon if he can do the procedure using a local anesthetic or a nerve block. This won’t work for all surgeries, but it’s worth asking if you have a history of severe nausea or vomiting after surgery.

Some people experience less nausea after surgery when they wear an acupressure wristband that applies pressure to a point on the wrist called pericardium 6. This signals the brain to release neurotransmitters that block nausea. These are the same bracelets some travelers use to prevent seasickness.

The key to avoiding vomiting and nausea after surgery is to communicate with your anesthesiologist. Once they know you’re concerned about vomiting after the procedure, they can adjust the medications you receive before, during, and after. These adjustments will reduce the risk of coming out of the operating room with your head in a pan.

References: “Postoperative Vomiting”

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  1. It is recommended to prevent vomiting by drinking small amounts of clear, sweetened liquids such as soda pop, fruit juices and Popsicle.

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