What is surgical site infections?

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Infection after surgery: Overview

After surgery, an infection is always possible. It doesn't mean that the surgery didn't go well.

Because an infection can be serious, your doctor has taken steps to manage it.

Your doctor checked the infection and cleaned it if necessary. Your doctor may have made an opening in the area so that the pus can drain out. You may have gauze in the cut so that the area will stay open and keep draining. You may need antibiotics.

You will need to follow up with your doctor to make sure the infection has gone away.

Preventing surgical site infections

Here are some ways to help prevent surgical site infections.

  • Tell your doctor ALL the medicines, vitamins, supplements, and herbal remedies you take.

    Some may increase the risk of problems during your surgery. Your doctor will tell you if you should stop taking any of them before the surgery and how soon to do it.

  • Follow your doctor's instructions exactly about when to stop eating and drinking.

    If your doctor tells you to take your medicines on the day of surgery, take them with only a sip of water.

  • Follow your doctor's instructions about when to bathe or shower before your surgery.

    You may be given a special soap to use. If you're allergic to the special soap, ask your doctor how to wash your skin. Do not use lotions, perfumes, deodorants, or nail polish.

  • Do not shave the area of the surgery.

    Shaving with a razor may increase the risk of infection.

  • Stop smoking at least a month before surgery.

    If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines.

  • Adopt healthy habits.

    Being in good health before surgery may help. Here are some basic steps.

    • Eat many kinds of healthy foods—grains, vegetables, fruits, and protein.
    • Be active. Being in better shape can help you recover faster.
    • Drink plenty of liquids.
    • Stop or reduce your use of alcohol.
    • If you have diabetes, keep your blood sugar in your target range before surgery.

How can you care for an infection after surgery?

  • Make sure your surgeon knows about the infection, especially if you saw another doctor about your symptoms.
  • If your doctor prescribed antibiotics, take them as directed. Do not stop taking them just because you feel better. You need to take the full course of antibiotics.
  • Ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter pain medicine, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve). Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
  • Do not take two or more pain medicines at the same time unless the doctor told you to. Many pain medicines have acetaminophen, which is Tylenol. Too much acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be harmful.
  • Prop up the area on a pillow anytime you sit or lie down during the next 3 days. Try to keep it above the level of your heart. This will help reduce swelling.
  • Keep the skin clean and dry.
  • You may have a bandage over the cut (incision). A bandage helps the incision heal and protects it. Your doctor will tell you how to take care of this. Keep it clean and dry. You may have drainage from the wound.
  • If your doctor told you how to care for your incision, follow your doctor's instructions. If you did not get instructions, follow this general advice:
    • Wash around the incision with clean water 2 times a day. Don't use hydrogen peroxide or alcohol, which can slow healing.

Infection after surgery: When to call

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have signs that your infection is getting worse, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness in the area.
    • Red streaks leading from the area.
    • Pus draining from the wound.
    • A new or higher fever.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if you have any problems.

Why is it important to prevent surgical site infections?

Infection can slow healing and recovery. It can also add time to a hospital stay. You may need more treatment or surgery. Costs may increase.

Infection can lead to sepsis, which is an intense reaction to infection. Sepsis can cause dangerously low blood pressure, and it may damage organs. It can even cause death.

Your risk of infection may be higher if you have certain conditions like obesity or diabetes. It may be higher if you smoke. You may be able to lower your chance of infection by eating many kinds of healthy foods and being active before your surgery.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.