General surgery covers a variety of common procedures including hernia, bariatric (weight loss), colon or rectal surgery, gallbladder and appendix removal. While these surgeries are conducted on thousands of patients every day, each person’s experience and recovery is unique. It’s important to proactively speak with your surgeon about how your pain will be managed before, during and after surgery.

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Let’s explore some of these procedures in greater detail.

Hernia Repair

What is a Hernia?

A hernia forms when an organ or group of tissues push through a weakened part of a muscle wall. Surgery may be performed to repair the hole causing the hernia. Five million Americans have hernias, and hernia repair accounts for about 800,000 surgeries performed in the U.S. each year. Men are more likely than women to have a hernia, but that can vary depending on the type of hernia. Hernia repair is also very common among pediatric patients.

What can I expect?

Recovery from hernia repair varies based on the type of hernia you have and how the surgery is performed (e.g., laparoscopically – also known as minimally invasive). While most hernia repairs are considered outpatient procedures, more complex hernias may require a hospital stay.

Opioids may be a method to manage pain for some hernia procedures. However, pain can also be managed with the use of non-opioid numbing medications injected into the surgical site during surgery, as well as over-the-counter (OTC) pain medication, cold and hot compresses and holding a pillow firmly against the incision.

Bariatric (Weight Loss) Surgery

What surgeries are considered Bariatric Surgeries?

Bariatric surgery – also known as weight loss surgery – can include gastric bypass and gastric sleeve. Bariatric surgery may be an option for patients who are obese and suffer from obesity-related health problems such as high blood pressure, sleep apnea or heart disease. Bariatric surgery procedures lead to weight loss by limiting the amount of food the stomach can hold

There are more than 200,000 bariatric surgeries performed in the United States each year and 80 percent of patients undergoing bariatric surgery are female.

Women should keep in mind that bariatric procedures may lead to hormonal changes.

What can I expect?

On average, patients can leave the hospital 1-2 days after bariatric surgery. You should expect some pain following surgery, but most patients are back to work within a week of their procedure.

Studies have found that bariatric patients are at risk for opioid-related adverse events such as hyperventilation, excessive sedation and constipation. Beyond the side effects, data has demonstrated that more than 8 percent of gastric sleeve patients will go on to be persistent opioid users following surgery. Patients considering bariatric surgery should speak to their doctor about pain management options, as there are effective non-opioids available that can be used during the procedure to help improve pain management following surgery.

Colorectal (Colon or Rectum) Surgery

What surgeries are considered Colorectal Surgeries?

Colorectal surgeries are procedures associated with the colon or rectum. They may include colectomy, which is the partial or total removal of the colon (sometimes referred to as the bowel or intestine), as well as hemorrhoidectomy (hemorrhoid removal). Each year, more than 600,000 people undergo operations to treat colon and bowel disorders. Additionally, hemorrhoids — which are more common with age  affect 1 in 20 Americans. Although most hemorrhoid pain can be managed without surgery, over 320,000 patients undergo hemorrhoidectomies each year in the United States.

What can I expect?

Pain will vary based on the specific procedure. For instance, colectomy patients, regardless of the type of colectomy (e.g., total, partial, minimally invasive) should expect to stay in the hospital for 1-5 nights. Often, patients will be discharged after they’ve had a bowel movement. Most patients can resume normal activities in 1-2 weeks, but it can take longer based on each procedure. Pain will also vary for patients facing hemorrhoid removal. Due to the sensitive location of a hemorrhoid, it may take up to 6 weeks for patients to feel normal.

Pain management is important for these patients and opioids may be prescribed to manage pain after surgery. However, research finds more than 17 percent of colectomy patients who are prescribed opioids go on to become persistent opioid users. Regardless of the type of procedure you’re having, ask your doctor about pain management, including non-opioid options.

Cholecystectomy (Gallbladder Removal)

What is a Cholecystectomy?

A cholecystectomy is a surgery to remove the gallbladder, which is a pear-shaped organ that sits below your liver. Each year, more than 700,000 people have their gallbladders removed. One of the main reasons a person might need to have their gallbladder taken out is because of gallstones, which are small stones that build up in the gallbladder. An estimated 10-15 percent of adults in the United States have gallstones; however, they’re most common in women 40 and older.

What can I expect?

Gallbladder removal is typically done laparoscopically (minimally invasive). Most patients who have a minimally invasive gallbladder removal will go home the same day. Those who require an open procedure may need to stay in the hospital for 1-2 days. While opioids are frequently used to treat severe pain following this type of surgery, non-opioid options can be injected into the surgical site to help manage postsurgical pain in the days following the procedure. In fact, one study found that patients reported better pain control with the use of a non-opioid option during a gallbladder removal surgery.

Additionally, pain can be controlled with over-the-counter NSAIDs such as ibuprofen, as well as using a pillow to apply pressure on your abdomen. There are a variety of ways to manage pain after surgery, so it is important that you speak with your doctor about the right plan for you.

Appendectomy (Appendix Removal)

What is an Appendectomy?

An appendectomy, the removal of the appendix, is often performed as an emergency procedure to treat acute appendicitis, which is the inflammation or infection of the appendix. Appendicitis is the most common cause of severe abdominal pain requiring surgery. More than 300,000 people in the U.S. undergo an appendectomy each year. Appendicitis occurs most often in children and young adults, and more often in men than women.

What can I expect?

You will likely experience some pain in the first few days following surgery. However, most patients can return to their normal routine within a week or two. Most patients can go home 1-2 days after both laparoscopic (minimally invasive) and open procedures.