woman eating tortellini

Carb Loading: Why Can’t You Eat Before Surgery?

Posted on 07/03/17 by Allied Anesthesia

Allied Answers & Insights

It’s the question we hear most: “Why can’t I eat before surgery?” It just so happens there are some really good reasons. Read on to find out!

By Allied Anesthesiologist Dr. Peter Sawras

In 1848 a pregnant woman went under anesthesia and died from aspiration. Yup, she had a meal before surgery and all that semi digested food ended up in the lungs. You are right, that is bad. And it’s why anesthesiologists make sure you haven’t eaten for eight hours prior to “putting you to sleep.” And it’s why your surgeon told you “nothing to eat after midnight.” Since you should be sleeping for eight hours, this should be no big deal. You wake up, go to the hospital, and have your surgery.

Timing is Everything

What if your operation is scheduled at 3:00 PM? It’s getting close to 20 hours since your last meal. You’re probably “hangry,” and with your coffee habit, the caffeine headache is coming on strong. Even worse is what might be going on inside your body. Since our bodies are not accustomed to fasting, cortisol, or your “stress hormone,” is building up. In diabetics AND pre-diabetics, high cortisol levels can lead to increased blood sugar levels after surgery. Studies have shown this is a big risk factor for having an infection after surgery.

Drinking clear liquids three hours prior to surgery can help decrease blood sugar after your procedure. Clear liquids are also associated with faster recovery from anesthesia, decreased nausea and vomiting, and lower pain scores in the recovery room.

Keep it Simple

Eat NO solid food for eight hours prior to surgery. DO drink clear liquids three hours prior to your procedure.

The clear liquids recommended are water, apple juice, and sports drinks like Gatorade. If you drink coffee, have a cup to take the edge off (no cream, milk, creamer, Baileys, etc.).

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