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Before your operation

Find out what happens before surgery, having an anaesthetic, the people you’ll meet and the exercises you need to do.

Tests to check you are fit for surgery

You have tests before your operation to check:

  • your fitness for an anaesthetic, if you need one
  • that you’ll make a good recovery from surgery

You might have some or all of the following tests:

  • blood tests to check your general health and how well your kidneys are working
  • an ECG to check that your heart is healthy
  • breathing tests (called lung function tests)
  • an echocardiogram (a painless test of your heart using sound waves)
  • a chest x-ray to check that your lungs are healthy

Pre assessment clinic

1 to 2 weeks before your surgery, you have an appointment at the hospital pre assessment clinic. This prepares you for your operation.

You meet members of your treatment team at this appointment and can sign the consent form to agree to the operation.

Your doctor and nurses might tell you about the enhanced recovery programme. This is a way of caring before, during and after your surgery to help you recover more quickly after a big operation.  It includes advising you about:

  • being physically active
  • stopping smoking
  • drinking less alcohol
  • eating well before your surgery

The surgeon

A member of the surgical team will tell you about:

  • the operation you are going to have
  • the benefits of having surgery
  • the possible risks
  • what to expect afterwards

The anaesthetist

The anaesthetist gives you the anaesthetic and looks after you during the operation. They make sure you’re fit enough for the surgery.

Learning breathing and leg exercises

Breathing exercises help to stop you from getting a chest infection. If you smoke, it helps if you can stop at least a few weeks before your operation.

Leg exercises help to stop blood clots forming in your legs. You might also have medicines to stop the blood from clotting. You have them as small injections under the skin.

You start the injections before your operation. You might also wear compression stockings.

Your nurse and physiotherapist will get you up out of bed quite quickly after your surgery. This is to help prevent chest infections and blood clots forming.

This 3-minute video shows you how to do the breathing and leg exercises.

The evening before

You might go into hospital the evening before or the morning of your surgery.

Your nurse might give you a carbohydrate-rich drink to have the evening before the operation. You might also have it the following morning. The drink gives you energy and can speed up your recovery.

When you're in hospital your nurse will check your blood pressure, pulse, temperature and breathing rate. You might have fluids through a drip (intravenous infusion) into your arm before your surgery if you have recently been finding it diffiucult to drink.

On the day

Your nurse will check your blood pressure, pulse and breathing rate.

On the day of the operation you:

  • stop eating for about 6 hours beforehand, but can still drink clear fluids up to 2 hours beforehand
  • change into a hospital gown
  • take off jewellery (except for a wedding ring)
  • take off make up, including nail varnish
  • remove contact lenses and false teeth

You can usually keep your false teeth in until you get to the anaesthetic room.

For some types of surgery, you’ll need to shave the skin over the operation area. Or your nurse can shave it for you. They might do this when you’re under anaesthetic in the operating room.

Your nurse might give you a tablet or an injection to help you relax. This will be an hour or so before you go to the operating theatre. This makes your mouth feel dry. But you can rinse your mouth with water to keep it moist. Your nurse takes you to theatre on a trolley if you have this.

You can walk down to theatre if you don’t have any medicine to relax you.

Having an anaesthetic

You have an anaesthetic so that you won’t feel anything during the operation. Your ward nurse and aporter take you to the anaesthetic room, next to the operating theatre.

All the doctors and nurses wear theatre gowns, hats and masks. This reduces your chance of getting an infection.

The anaesthetist puts a small tube (cannula) into a vein in your arm. You have any fluids and medicines you need through the cannula including the general anaesthetic. This sends you into a deep sleep. When you wake up, the operation will be over.

Before you go to sleep your anaesthetist might put a small tube in the space around your spine. They can attach a pump to this tube to give you pain medicines. This is for after your operation to help control your pain.

Last reviewed: 
06 Jul 2016
  • Guidelines for the management of oesophageal and gastric cancer
    WH Allum and others
    Gut. 2011 Nov; 60(11):1449-72

  • Enhanced Recovery
    NHS Choices, May 2016

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