Jenilee Matz has a master’s degree in public health and worked for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as a health communications specialist. She writes for several health publications including Everyday Health, HealthDay, and Diabetic Connect.
It’s not uncommon for people with diabetes to need surgery. In fact, one in four people with diabetes will require an operation at some point in life. You may need surgery to correct an eye, kidney, or heart problem, or to treat an infection. Unfortunately, having diabetes also increases your risk for surgery-related complications and often extends the recovery period.
Thankfully, most surgeries aren't emergencies. The majority of people with diabetes will have time to work with their doctors to prepare for a safe surgery.
Take these seven steps to help ensure a safe surgery:
1. Keep your blood sugar under control. Studies show that tighter blood sugar control before surgery reduces the chance of complications afterward. To keep your blood sugar levels near your goals, follow your diabetes care plan as directed by your doctor. Check your blood sugar levels as often as advised, keep up with doctor appointments, take insulin and other medications as prescribed, practice good nutrition, get regular exercise, and reach or maintain a healthy weight.
2. See your doctor in the weeks before surgery. Have check-ups with your doctor as often as suggested in the weeks leading up to surgery. Bring your blood sugar readings journal with you so your doctor can look it over. Tell your doctor about all medications (including prescription and over-the-counter), vitamins, and supplements (including herbs) you take because some are not safe to take before or after surgery. It’s also a good idea to make sure you’re up to date on all immunizations, especially the flu shot.
3. Discuss the procedure with your surgeon. Understand why you’re having the surgery, and share any concerns with your doctor. Most surgeries are elective procedures and take a toll on your physical and mental health. It’s always a good idea to get a second opinion. Ask your doctor if a less invasive treatment could help, and make sure you understand what would happen if you didn't have the surgery.
4. Quit smoking. Stop smoking weeks before the surgery. If you don’t have that much time before surgery, it’s still helpful to quit. Smokers have a greater risk for complications and a more difficult recovery. Not smoking will also help improve blood sugar control. Ask your doctor about resources that can help you kick the cigarette habit.
5. Meet with the anesthesiologist. This specialist is in charge of monitoring your vital signs—including your blood sugar levels—during the procedure. Discuss your diabetes treatment plan with your anesthesiologist, and ask about anesthesia options.
6. Schedule your surgery for first thing in the morning. You’ll have a lower chance of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) if you have surgery in the early morning. Your doctor may ask you to check into the hospital even earlier to make sure your blood sugar levels are in a healthy range.
7. Plan for the recovery period. Being prepared for what will happen after surgery will keep your mind at ease while you recuperate. Understand your treatment plan and know when you can return to normal activities, fill all prescriptions and have enough diabetes supplies on hand to last for a couple of weeks, and schedule all follow-up doctor visits.