If you’re having major surgery, you may know that an anesthesiologist will give you anesthesia and monitor you while you’re unconscious during the surgery. But you may not know that this medical doctor also works with you and your surgeon to make sure you’re comfortable as you recover from your surgery.
After a major surgery, such as a hip or knee replacement, a heart operation, or a procedure on another major organ, you most likely will experience postoperative pain. Your anesthesiologist will help manage this pain using a variety of medications and nonmedication techniques.
Postoperative pain is not just annoying or unpleasant. If it’s not treated correctly, it can sometimes become chronic pain — pain that lasts longer than three months — and become more challenging to manage.
Postoperative pain is not just annoying or unpleasant. If it’s not treated correctly, it can sometimes become chronic pain.
In the first hours and days of your recovery, you may be given pain medication through an IV in a vein. This medication may be an opioid, a powerful drug that prompts the release of dopamine — a chemical in the brain that reduces the perception of pain. Once you are awake and alert, you may be given a pump that allows you to give yourself a dose of medication when you need it. The pump is programmed so you can’t give yourself too much medication.
Opioids also can be taken in pill form, and there are different types and strengths of opioids. Your anesthesiologist will determine the specific medication to use based on your type of surgery, pain level, health status, and history.
Postoperative pain also can be managed by other prescription and over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen (Motrin), acetaminophen (Tylenol), and aspirin (Bayer). Medications like ibuprofen also help reduce inflammation and swelling. Nonmedication alternatives, such as heating pads, ice packs, or relaxation techniques that help with pain or swelling, can be used instead of or along with medications. Your anesthesiologist will assess your needs and work with your surgeon, nurses and others involved in your care to develop the best overall care plan for you.