Anaesthesia explained

Published: 02/08/2019

Preparing for an operation

As soon as you know that you may be having an operation, it is helpful to think about how you can be as healthy and fit as possible.

The time that you have to prepare will vary depending on the reason for the operation. If your operation is not too urgent, you can ask for extra time to get fit, if you want to. If your operation is an emergency, your doctors and nurses will give you good care in the condition you are in.

Medical problems 

If you have a long-term condition, such as diabetes, asthma or bronchitis, heart problems or high blood pressure, you should make sure you are as well as possible before your operation. If you think you could make some improvement, you can ask your GP for an extra check-up. You should do this as soon as you know that you are having an operation. 

Smoking 

If you smoke, you should consider giving up before your operation. Smoking reduces the amount of oxygen in your blood and increases the risk of breathing and heart problems during and after the operation. Your surgical wound will heal more slowly and be more likely to get infected if you smoke. On average, smokers stay in hospital longer than non-smokers. 

If you plan to quit smoking, it is a good idea to get help from a counsellor or support service. Your GP will be able to give you contact details for services in your area. You are four times more likely to give up successfully if you have this kind of help. For more information please go to: www.nhs.uk/smokefree.

Your weight 

Many of the risks of having an operation are increased if you are very overweight. Your GP can give you advice about weight loss and put you in touch with an organisation that can help. Slow, supervised weight loss is likely to be most successful.

Alcohol 

If you drink more than the recommended amount, you should cut down before an operation. Go to: www.nhs.uk/livewell/alcohol/pages/alcohol-units.aspx for more advice.

Your teeth 

Ideally, loose teeth should be secured before an anaesthetic. This reduces as far as possible the chance of any damage to your teeth. On the day of your operation, your anaesthetist will want to know which teeth are loose, or have crowns or a bridge. 

Fitness testing before an operation 

Your surgeon may ask you to do a fitness test before you decide that you will have the operation. A fitness test gives information about how risky the operation is for you. This helps you decide whether an operation is right for you. There may be other less risky treatments that would be better for you. The test also helps your surgeon and anaesthetist decide how best to look after you during and after the operation.

The fitness test is usually done on a stationary cycle. You are asked to wear a mask so the team can measure the oxygen that you use and the carbon dioxide that you breathe out. 

If you cannot turn the pedals due to problems with your legs, it may be possible to use a machine that you turn with your arms. 

Sometimes the exercise test team will suggest that an activity programme designed to improve fitness would help you get through your operation safely. This would only be if the operation can be safely delayed. Your surgeon would help you arrange this.