Why can't I eat before surgery?
Stephanie Wade, MD, is a board-certified anesthesiologist in internal medicine at Banner Estrella Medical Center.
Question: Why won’t the hospital let me eat before my surgery?
Answer: An appropriate fasting period prior to elective procedures performed during anesthesia is essential for patient safety. The objective is to empty the stomach so the risk of inhaling stomach contents into the lungs is reduced.
When you are going under anesthesia, your body and all its functions are “put to sleep” making normal reactions, like swallowing, impossible. Since you are unable to control your gag reflex, if you eat something before surgery your stomach contents could regurgitate into your airways, causing complications such as pulmonary aspiration which, in severe cases, can be fatal. It is recommended that you not eat anything for eight hours or more before surgery; however, if your physician recommends that you continue specific medication, you may take it with a sip of water.
Fasting before surgery usually includes gum, mints, chewing tobacco and other candies, as well as beverages of any kind including water. In emergencies, special precautions are taken to reduce the risk of aspiration, but elective surgery will be cancelled if fasting instructions are not followed.
Question: Will anesthesia make me sick?
Answer: There are specific factors that put patients at risk for nausea after surgery. Certain patients, primarily women of childbearing age who are non-smokers, have a history of motion sickness and are having riskier procedures such as gynecological surgery or breast surgery, are more at risk for nausea or vomiting.
Sickness after the surgery does not have anything to do with how long you are going to be under anesthesia, but certain types of anesthesia may help to minimize the risk of nausea. Before your surgery, you will be visited by your anesthesiologist, and it is important that you tell them if you are prone to motion sickness, have been sick after surgery before or have been under anesthesia before. In some cases, anesthesiologists can recommend or prescribe medications that may be used to help prevent nauseas, though they do not work for everyone.
Most patients find that anesthesia is not unlike a heavy sleep after a hard day. Patients will most likely be awake in the operating room following the surgery, having their first real memory in recovery and then be lethargic most of the day as their body heals itself in reaction to the surgery—not the anesthesia.