Post-operative nausea and vomiting (POVN) affects approximately one-third of patients undergoing surgery. Termed “anaesthesia sickness”, it occurs after having an anaesthetic during surgical treatment.
The nausea and vomiting associated with anaesthesia sickness may make post-operative discomfort feel even worse. If a patient is unable to keep down required medications such as antibiotics, or cannot tolerate any food or drink, they may be required to remain in hospital for a longer period of time.
Severe vomiting, although rare, can be serious. It can cause further complications such as damage to the operated area, tears to the oesophagus (oesophagitis), or possibly even lung inflammation (aspiration pneumonia) from inhaling during a vomiting episode.
People more at risk of getting anaesthesia sickness after surgery include:
- Children and teenagers
- People who are obese
- Those with a tendency towards travel sickness
- Those who have previously suffered from anaesthesia sickness
- Those who are anxious about their surgery
- Moving about or eating too soon after surgery
Certain types of surgery also carry a higher risk of anaesthesia sickness:
- Breast surgery
- Abdominal surgery
- Gynaecological surgery
- Surgery involving the head or neck, such as eye surgery, ear surgery, nose surgery or throat surgery
Other factors include:
- Surgery that lasts for more than 30 minutes
- Dehydration during the operation
- Type of anaesthetic used
- General anaesthesia vs regional anaesthesia
Treatment of anaesthesia sickness may include anti-nausea medication, however acupuncture and acupressure has been shown to be just as effective in preventing nausea and vomiting both before and after surgery.
If you have suffered from anaesthesia sickness in the past, you should let your anaesthetist know before any future surgeries. Since certain types of anaesthetics are more likely than others to cause nausea, the anaesthetist can choose appropriate anaesthetics as well as administer anti-nausea medication.
Anaesthesia sickness or POVN is undoubtedly an unpleasant experience, but by being informed about the potential of suffering from it, and taking steps to prevent or treat it, the effect it has on an individual post-surgery can be greatly minimised or eliminated.