What to do if you are sick before surgery

For many people, preparing for surgery is a process that can take weeks or even months to actually complete the surgery. There may be tests and more, finding the right surgeon or second opinion, and deciding where to have surgery.

Your careful planning is designed to ensure optimal health outcomes. However, if you start to feel uncomfortable before surgery, it can be completely turned upside down.

This article discusses the types of disorders that may delay surgery, and the types of disorders that may not delay surgery. It will help you know how to tell your surgeon about any symptoms they need to know about.

Illness may or may not delay surgery

Every day around the world, surgeries are canceled. A literature review that looked at these events over a 10-year period found that 18 percent of scheduled programs were canceled on the day they were originally scheduled to occur. In nearly a quarter of these events, changes in the patient’s health were the cause.

In some cases, your disease may be related to the reason you had surgery. For example, you may have severe chest pain due to coronary artery disease. If you plan to have open-heart surgery to improve this condition, it may go as planned.

On the other hand, if you’re diagnosed with the flu the day before your elective surgery, there’s a good chance you’ll need to postpone it. Respiratory infections or stomach flu may also delay surgery.

There is a reason why feeling unwell may have caused surgery to be cancelled. That said, your health changes will also have a reason to keep going, and for a reason.

The decision also depends on how long the disease usually takes to resolve. For example, strep throat is no longer contagious after 24 hours of antibiotic use. Surgery may not be delayed.

Often, your surgeon will make the final decision on whether to move forward. They will consider factors such as how severe your condition is and what type of surgery you plan to have.

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When to notify the surgeon

Be sure to tell your surgeon if you are sick a few days before your surgery – the sooner the better. Only your surgeon can decide whether your symptoms are severe enough to cause delays.

If you develop mild disease in the week before surgery, or moderate to severe disease in the two weeks before surgery, notify your surgeon immediately.

You may think it makes sense to wait to get better in time, but keep in mind that surgery that is cancelled at the last minute may incur some charges for you.


Changes in your health, such as the flu, may cause surgery to be cancelled. In other cases, worsening symptoms may mean more reason to continue with surgery related to the condition. Tell your surgeon right away if you become sick within a week or two of your surgery date.

10 things you should tell your surgeon before surgery

Conditions that may delay surgery

There are many health conditions that may require you to delay surgery. These include several respiratory diseases.

In particular, health problems that affect your breathing may lead to cancellations as they make use of anaesthetization needed during your surgery.

asthma symptoms

Asthma alone is not a reason to cancel surgery. However, any severe increase in asthma symptoms in the days or weeks before surgery can cause delays until the problem improves.

People with severe asthma symptoms before surgery are at higher risk for complications from surgery. If this occurs before the planned date, let your surgeon know right away.

Risks of having surgery if you have asthma

breathing problems

Breathing problems may cause surgery to be delayed or cancelled.Patients under general anesthesia are at increased risk of dyspnea, including pneumonia.

For this reason, lung function tests can be done to make sure the patient is breathing as much as possible. This is to reduce the risk of breathing problems after surgery.

A new diagnosis of a serious breathing problem could delay surgery or cause it to be cancelled. Temporary breathing problems that may also delay surgery include:

  • severe cough
  • bronchitis
  • respite
  • shortness of breath


Delayed surgery is often caused by breathing problems. In many cases, this is due to concerns about how anesthesia will affect people with breathing problems. People with severe asthma are especially prone to complications.

What is causing your shortness of breath?

infectious disease

Infectious diseases, such as chicken pox or measles, often delay your surgery. You can expect it to be delayed until you are no longer contagious, unless the procedure is so critical that it absolutely cannot wait.

Chickenpox symptoms and complications


Fever may delay surgery, especially if it is very high or unexplained. Hypothermia may not delay surgery, but severe fever may delay surgery.

A study in Saudi Arabia found that fever and respiratory illness were among the reasons why 24 percent of all elective surgeries that were delayed due to patient conditions were canceled. In winter, these rates are even higher, as fever-related infections are more likely.

Keep in mind that surgery is more likely to be delayed when the cause of the fever is unknown.

What you should know about fever


Infections in the week or two before surgery may cause delays, depending on the type.

Minor infections, such as skin or urinary tract infections, are less likely to delay your surgery.This is a major infection such as sepsis or meningitiswhich may delay your surgery.

infectious disease


A flu or flu could be the reason for your delayed surgery. However, most flu cases usually end within a week.

Serious complications from the flu are fairly rare, so most people with the flu will see a brief delay before surgery.


Fever or infection, including the flu, may cause surgery to be cancelled or rescheduled. In some cases, the decision will depend on the importance of the surgery and the severity of the infection.

People at higher risk for flu complications

uncontrolled diabetes

out of control diabetes increases the risk of postoperative complications. High glucose or blood sugar levels can increase the risk of infection. They can also cause slow wound healing and increased recovery time.

For this reason, diabetes problems may cause surgery to be delayed until your blood sugar is better controlled.

Surgery Risks When You Have Diabetes


Any symptoms of vomiting may delay surgery. Vomiting during surgery can lead to aspiration pneumonia, a serious complication.

Vomiting after surgery can also cause other problems. It may increase pain and put more pressure on some types of incisions. This can make the recovery process more difficult.

An exception to this rule may be when surgery is aimed at correcting vomiting. This is more likely to occur when surgery is aimed at correcting a disorder of the digestive tract.


When you get sick before a scheduled surgery, there are several possible outcomes. For example, minor infections may not be delayed.

There may also be no delay when your health changes are part of the condition the surgery is designed to correct.

However, if you have symptoms such as vomiting or difficulty breathing, it may usually be necessary to postpone your surgery. Be sure to let your surgeon know about your condition while they have enough time to decide whether to proceed with surgery.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can I have surgery if I have a cold?

    It depends on your symptoms. Respiratory infections can make it harder for you to get enough oxygen under anesthesia. Call your surgeon’s office before surgery. They can help you decide if it’s safe to continue with the surgery, or if it makes more sense to wait.

  • Can I have surgery for a sore throat?

    It depends on the cause of the sore throat and how urgent the surgery is. Let your surgeon know if you have a sore throat two weeks before your surgery. A mild sore throat may be fine, while a severe infection may be the reason for the delay.