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What can help relieve anxiety before surgery?

What can help relieve anxiety before surgery?

It's normal to feel anxious before surgery. Even if an operation can restore your health or even save your life, most people feel uncomfortable about “going under the knife.” It's important to make sure that fears and anxiety do not become too overwhelming. There is no cure-all for anxiety. But there are many things that can help people better cope with anxiety before surgery. Many hospitals offer special support, and family and friends can help too. Although there is not yet much research on strategies for managing pre-surgery anxiety, there is some fairly strong evidence that certain measures can help.

What effects can anxiety have?

It is very normal to feel anxious before having an operation, especially the day or two beforehand, which are often spent in the hospital preparing for the operation. Sometimes people have day surgery, where they go to the hospital or practice, have the procedure and then go home on the same day. But even then it can be hard not to worry about the operation, the possible risks and the anesthetic beforehand. Severe anxiety can cause unpleasant symptoms and stress. Typical symptoms include a pounding heart, a racing heart (fast pulse), irregular heartbeat, nausea, a nervous stomach, shortness of breath and/or sleep problems. These anxiety-related symptoms can be particularly worrying for people who have pain due to a heart condition. Anxiety can make pain worse, as well as making it harder to cope with the pain. But the physical signs of anxiety are usually not a sign that a heart condition is getting worse. Anxiety also becomes a problem if it makes it harder to understand and remember important things you are told about the operation, such as advice about how to prepare for it or about recovering afterwards.

What can help relieve anxiety before surgery?

The first thing to do about anxiety is learn to understand how it affects you. Anxiety is a very strong feeling. One of the roles of anxiety is to protect us from situations that are too dangerous. At the same time, anxiety prepares your body so you can defend yourself or quickly escape from the danger – a reaction also known as the “fight-or-flight response.” That is why anxiety increases your heart rate, increases your blood pressure and keeps you awake. But if there is no real danger, this response is not helpful and can have negative consequences.

Most people learn how to manage their own anxiety and handle frightening situations over time. They develop suitable strategies to cope with what is causing the anxiety. But going into the hospital and having an operation is often a completely new situation. Here they often need emotional and practical support from friends and family too. People might cope with pre-surgery anxiety in very different ways. Some try to prevent anxiety or stress by getting information early on and talking with other people about their concerns. Others distract themselves by reading, or use exercise or relaxation techniques like slow and deep breathing. Several studies have suggested that listening to music before surgery can relieve anxiety. Music can help you relax and distract you. The most helpful type of music will depend on your personal taste in music.

How can doctors and other medical professionals help?

There are some things that patients should be able to take for granted in a hospital. For example, the staff understand the needs of the patients, waiting times are kept as short as possible, and the hospital stay is made as pleasant as possible.Most hospitals provide contact with counselors, social workers or volunteers who offer support and assistance. Like with personal coping strategies, the most suitable type of professional support will depend on what is causing the anxiety. For example, someone who is afraid of having an anesthetic will need a different type of support than someone who is mostly afraid of being away from their familiar surroundings.

Patients can try relaxation techniques like breathing exercises, meditation or muscle relaxation, or use pre-recorded audio training courses. Massages, acupuncture, homeopathy, aromatherapy or hypnosis are sometimes used before surgery too. But they have not yet been scientifically proven to help relieve anxiety before surgery.

Do sedatives help relieve anxiety before surgery?

People who are already in hospital the night before an operation are usually given medicine to help them sleep or a sedative to reduce anxiety. It is not scientifically clear which medicine is the most suitable. Benzodiazepines are often used for sedation. These drugs reduce anxiety, help you relax, and make you sleepy at the same time. They might also make you feel drowsy or nauseous. It is important to tell your doctor if you already took a sedative before arriving at the hospital.Sedatives can also be used just before having the anesthetic. They are usually given in the last hour or two before surgery.

Smoking before surgery

Many people who smoke tend to smoke even more when they are feeling anxious. But complications after surgery are more common in people who smoke. Smoking particularly affects the wound-healing process. Starting nicotine replacement therapy one to two months before surgery could reduce the risk of complications.

US National Library of Medicine



Dr. Suzanne Vandehul

Southeast Lincoln Family Medicine

“I have been sending patients to Dr. Kampfe for many years now. I am impressed with his clinical and surgical skills. All of my patients have reported that he is very kind, attentive and easy to talk to. He is the first surgeon I would choose if I were to need a surgery for myself or a family member.”