Why can’t I eat before having surgery?

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It’s often irritating and inconvenient to have to skip several meals before you undergo a surgical procedure. But the surgeons are not just trying to clean out your insides by preventing you from eating before surgery—they may actually be saving your life.

The Most Common Reasons Doctors Advise Patients Not to Eat Before Surgery

  • Aspiration pneumonitis – Roughly five percent of patients vomit while on the operating table and aspirate the contents of their stomachs. An empty stomach reduces the amount of matter in the stomach, posing less risk to the patient.
  • Surgical location risks – Food that has not passed completely through a patient’s system may cast a shadow on x-rays or occlude a surgeon’s vision during camera assisted surgery, causing confusion and delays for the surgical team.
  • Impaired breathing control – Paralyzed patients or those who have stomas may have a permanent inability to control their own breathing. This not only increases the odds of vomit aspiration, but is also more likely to result in lung inflammation, post-operative infection, and pneumonia.
  • Nausea and vomiting – Up to a third of all surgery patients will experience nausea as a result of general anesthesia, so an empty stomach is key to avoiding severe dehydration from vomiting.
  • Hiccups – While hiccups are not inherently dangerous, they can result from swallowing blood and debris during surgery and can increase the risk of vomiting.

If someone you love is about to undergo a surgical procedure, you should make them aware of the risks of eating before surgery as soon as possible. Feel free to forward this article via email or Facebook, and to browse the related topics on this page to find out more about gastric problems during surgery.

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