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Pain After Surgery (cont.)

What Are the Symptoms of Pain After Surgery?

Pain may be described in many ways. You may be asked to identify the following qualities of the pain:

  • Character - The type of pain, stabbing, sharp, dull
  • Location - Where the pain is
  • Duration - How long your pain lasts
  • Severity - On a scale from 1 to 10, with 10 as the worst pain you have ever experienced
  • Radiation - Movement from one location to another
  • Movement of pain location
  • Things or movements that make pain better or worse

In addition to pain, tell the doctor about other associated symptoms such as the following:

  • Fever (temperature higher than 100°F [38 ºC])
  • Nausea, vomiting, or both
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Pus or discharge from the wound
  • Redness or swelling
  • Shortness of breath

When Should I Call the Doctor About Pain After Surgery?

Call the doctor if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Increase in pain or pain not controlled by prescribed medications: Telling the doctor if the pain is preventing you from breathing normally, eating, walking, or sleeping, is especially important.
  • Pain in the chest

Pain accompanied by any of the following (also if experienced without pain):

  • Fever (temperature higher than 100°F [38ºC])
  • Vomiting
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Shortness of breath
  • Bleeding
  • Redness, pus, or discharge from wound

Call the doctor if you are unsure of any of your postsurgery instructions.

Go to the hospital’s emergency department if you are unable to reach the doctor quickly or if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Confusion
  • Lethargy
  • Severe pain
  • Persistent symptoms
  • Vomiting
  • Fever (temperature higher than 100°F or [38ºC])
  • Bleeding
  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath

What Are the Exams and Test to Diagnose the Cause of Pain After Surgery?

If you have pain after surgery, you should always contact your surgeon first. If you cannot reach him or her, call you primary care doctor or go to the emergency room. When you are seen for pain after surgery, the exam may include the following:

  • Medical history, medications, and surgical history
  • A pain history, including increases or decreases in pain and whether your pain prevents you from breathing deeply, performing daily activities, eating, or sleeping
  • A physical examination, especially of the surgical site
  • Additional tests if the diagnosis is not made with a history and physical exam
  • Blood tests may include a white blood cell count for signs of infection, red blood cell counts to look for signs of bleeding, electrolytes to check fluid status, and possibly other tests.
  • X-ray images of the chest and abdomen may be obtained to assess possible pneumonia or signs of bowel obstruction or loss of intestinal movement.
  • A CT scan of the painful area may be necessary.
  • A sonogram may be obtained to look for collections of fluid and gallbladder or kidney stones.
Last Reviewed 11/21/2017
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