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Thinking about surgery?

Nonemergency surgeries have risks and benefits. Consider all of your treatment options before making a decision.

Surgery is the best treatment for a variety of conditions. However, deciding to undergo a surgical procedure is sometimes frightening.

Unless the surgery is needed as a life-saving measure, there is usually time for you and your doctor to consider different treatment options and decide what is best for you.

The road to surgery

Your primary care doctor may be the first to suggest surgery as a treatment option. When you are referred to a surgeon, make sure that you understand the procedure and why you are a good candidate. Ask as many questions as you can. Check with your health insurance to see if the surgery is covered.

Ask away

If you still aren't certain whether the surgery is right for you, consider visiting another surgeon for a second opinion.

You may worry that this will insult your doctor, but it's nothing to feel embarrassed about. Doctors call on each other for second opinions and often share decisions about diagnoses. Your insurance plan may even cover the cost of a second opinion.

Factors to consider

To make sure you get the information you need from your doctors, the American College of Surgeons and other experts recommend asking these questions:

  • What operation do you recommend? Surgeries can help with diagnosis or be done to remove or repair a body part.
  • Why do I need this operation? Will the result be the relief or prevention of pain, improvement of body function, or a reduction in symptoms?
  • Are there alternatives to surgery? Sometimes a change in lifestyle or other nonsurgical interventions can solve a problem without the risks of surgery.
  • What are the benefits of having the operation? How long will those benefits last? Ask if there is any published information about the outcomes of the surgery.
  • What are the risks of this operation? Ask about any complications or side effects and weigh them against the benefits.
  • What if I don't have this operation? What would happen if I decide not to have the surgery now? Would I experience more pain or could the problem go away? Will the condition get worse, remain about the same or possibly improve with time?
  • Where can I get a second opinion? Your doctor may have suggestions. Be sure to have your records sent to the second doctor so that any tests that have been done won't need to be repeated.
  • Where will the operation be done? Surgeries are done in hospitals, clinics and doctor's offices. Find out how many operations of this kind have been performed at that location. If the operation involves a hospital stay, ask how long it will be.
  • What kind of anesthesia will I need? Local anesthesia numbs a small part of your body for a short time. Regional anesthesia numbs a larger portion of your body. You would be awake (in most cases) for these procedures. General anesthesia makes you temporarily unconscious so that your brain does not register pain during surgery.
  • How long will it take to recover? Your surgeon can tell you what you are likely to feel during recovery and what you will be able to do. Find out if you will need any special supplies or equipment when you return home.
  • How much will the operation cost? Health insurance coverage varies. There may be parts of the procedure that you will have to pay for.

Reviewed 11/27/2023

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