Not Feeling Well After Surgery? It Could Be Anesthesia Side Effects

Updated on August 18, 2020

Surgery is very tricky but seems totally normal since it is usually done without many complications. There are so many things that need to go right that it is incredible that more problems don’t happen as a result of surgery. 

With all of those moving parts involved for a successful outcome, it should be expected that there would be some side effects. In fact, one of the biggest causes of side effects is not the surgery itself but from the anesthesia. Most are harmless, but just uncomfortable as opposed to some of the more painful side effects from surgery.

It does pay to know what to look out for when your surgery is over so you know what you can do. In this article, I will go over several of the common side effects of anesthesia so you can rebound quickly post surgery.


Headaches after surgery can be very uncomfortable. And they are usually caused by the anesthesia. Anesthesia consists of several different kinds of medication. And they can be quite potent when mixed together.

With such a combination, it is likely that one or more of them is not going to be reacted to very well. Think about how some common medications like aspirin can cause a stomach ache and then multiply that to the point where the drugs can knock somebody out.

In most cases, the headache is simply uncomfortable and nothing to be worried about. With time it will subside. If it persists, then bring it to the attention of your nurse if you are still in the hospital or your doctor if you have already been discharged.

If you are feeling confused or disoriented along with having a headache then it could be a sign of something more serious. Bring this to the attention of a nurse or doctor immediately.


Another common reaction is to have nausea and vomiting after surgery due to the anesthesia. In fact, this is a big risk during the surgery when you are unconscious and needs to be monitored. 

The sensation is at its peak right after surgery and usually goes away quickly. But, you could experience slight nausea for a few days after the surgery. Most people take an anti nausea medication to lessen the effects and that is generally enough.

Difficulty urinating

Anesthesia has a big effect on your muscles as it flows through your arteries and into the muscles. Since your bladder is a muscle, it can cause difficulty in urinating as it doesn’t function as it normally would.

In fact, in some cases, a catheter is necessary to help the patient urinate effectively. It isn’t something serious and may only be needed for a few days after surgery. However, that being said, a urinary tract infection risk is higher when you have had a catheter. 


When we swallow the wrong way, our body forces us to cough to dislodge it before the object works its way into the lungs. If we don’t cough it up, it can end up causing an infection and leading to pneumonia. 

The problem when you are put under is that you don’t have that reflex. Your body can’t feel anything going down the wrong tube and there is no way to cough to keep it from passing to the lungs.

Even saliva can harbor a lot of bacteria that will cause an infection. The patient may have to stay in the hospital to undergo antibiotic therapy to treat the pneumonia. 

Minor, but common side effects

There are numerous reactions that many patients describe after surgery when they’ve gone through anesthesia. 

Dry mouth, also called cottonmouth is probably the most common. Since the patient is usually breathing through the mouth during surgery, it dries out and is not a result of the medication.

Body temperature drops during surgery and the anesthesiologist tries to raise the temperature. After the surgery, however, the body temperature drops again and the patient can have chills and shivering until they warm back up. 

Sleepiness is almost guaranteed since the drugs will take some time to wear off. 

Factors that increase the risk of side effects

Anesthesia affects people differently and one of the biggest factors is the general health of the individual. In almost every case, anesthesia is safe, but people with pre existing conditions may react poorly to the medication.

If you have any cardiac problems like high blood pressure or heart disease then this increases the risk factors as to how you will react. Similarly, obesity and diabetes are problems that make your anesthesia more likely to cause you problems.

You should let your doctor know about the above conditions as well as if you suffer from sleep apnea, seizures or if you have any allergies to medications that you know about.

How does anesthesia work?

There are different types of anesthesia from local to general. General is when you are given a gas to inhale or an IV that administers the drugs directly into the blood. 

When you are under general anesthesia, you are completely unaware of anything happening around you. You are in a acatatonic state that is much deeper than simply being asleep. As a result, you are unable to feel pain.

Whichever type of general anesthesia is administered, the patient has to have a breathing tube. Not only is the patient in a deeper state than sleeping, but the muscles are unable to work. Which means that they won’t be able to breath on their own. It’s essentially a temporary paralysis.

Every moment of the time spent under anesthesia is monitored since there are a number of issues that can go wrong. It’s simply an analysis of the risk of being under the medication against the risk of not having the surgery. 

When viewed this way, it is obvious that there is very little chance that any surgery could be completed without the patient experiencing any side effects at all. Luckily, most side effects are inconsequential. 

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