Skip to main content

Health library

Getting ready for surgery

A doctor shows a patient her clipboard

A little prep work can help your surgery go smoothly. Here's what you need to do.

The business of getting ready for surgery doesn't lie only on the shoulders of your healthcare team. Whether you're having a simple procedure or a more complicated surgery, a big part of the prep should be on your own to-do list.

At home or at the doctor's office, use this checklist to be sure you have your bases covered.

Tasks for you

1. Manage your medicines. Some medications need to be adjusted or stopped altogether before surgery happens. Talk to your doctor about all the medications (prescription and over-the-counter), vitamins, herbs and supplements you take.

Let your doctor know if you drink alcohol or use recreational drugs too. It's all part of the information that your healthcare team needs to help ensure a successful surgery.

2. Quit smoking. Cigarette use can raise the risk of complications both during and after surgery, according to the American College of Surgeons. Plan to quit at least four to six weeks before surgery and continue the hiatus for at least a month afterward (or forever, if you can manage it—the health benefits will be tremendous).

Your doctor can help you make a quit plan and may suggest some aids such as nicotine patches, gum or pills.

Learn more about quitting in the Smoking health topic center.

3. Get insurance answers. If you're wondering what your expenses will be, you'll need to do some legwork, according to the American Society of Anesthesiologists. Find out where your surgery is taking place (outpatient center, doctor's office, hospital, etc.) and who will be involved (doctor, anesthetist, etc.). Get in touch with your insurance to find out what's covered.

4. Recruit some help. A spouse, friend or other loved one can help in many ways as you prepare for surgery and deal with its aftermath. He or she can:

  • Go to doctor appointments with you and help you keep track of the information and instructions you get.
  • Drive you home after surgery.
  • Provide help as you recover.

Questions for your doctor

Be sure you understand all the ins and outs before you have any surgery. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and other experts suggest you ask your doctor these questions.

  • Why do I need surgery?
  • What kind of procedure are you suggesting?
  • Are there alternatives to having surgery?
  • How much will it cost?
  • What are the benefits and risks?
  • How much experience do you have with this procedure?
  • Who else will be involved in my care?
  • How long will it take to recover?

Understanding is key

Be sure you understand everything you discuss with your doctor and have your questions answered before you head into surgery. Being informed and involved in your own care is a very important part of ensuring it's a success.

Reviewed 10/23/2023

Related stories