Preoperative Do's and Don'ts

The success of your upcoming surgery depends in part on what you do and don't do before the big day.  Your surgeon and anesthesiologist are counting on you to make sure they can do their job in the operating room safely while also making sure you're comfortable. 

That's why every surgery involves four distinct steps:

1. Surgical consultation

2. Pre-surgical visit

3. Day of surgery

4. Patient discharge

During steps one and two (the surgical consultation and pre-surgical visit), you'll learn more about your surgery and what you need to do to prepare for steps three and four (surgery day and going home after surgery). You might have an additional consultation with your anesthesiologist (who manages your pain during surgery) too.

Your surgeon will instruct you on a list of do's and don'ts to help you get ready and minimize risks.  Some surgeries have very specific instructions and your surgeon will make sure you know what to do.  Many, however, include these general instructions:


  • Tell your doctor about your medical history, including allergies, previous surgeries, all health conditions, etc.
  • Be honest about your smoking, drinking and recreational drug use.
  • Tell your doctors about all medications you take, including vitamins, herbal supplements and over-the-counter medications.
  • Leave your valuables (jewelry, electronics, money, credit cards, etc.) home or put them in the hospital safe.
  • Shower or bathe prior to coming to the hospital. If you need to use any special soap or disinfectant, your doctor will tell you.
  • Brush your teeth before going to the hospital, but don't swallow excess water or mouthwash.
  • Make sure you've talked to your family and doctor and filled out the appropriate paperwork for end of life wishes.
  • Shop for any supplies you may need during recovery including a thermometer, bandage materials, prescriptions, liquids and easy-to-prepare foods, hygiene products, etc.


  • Eat or drink anything after midnight the night before surgery. You may be able to take certain prescription medications with a few sips of water.
  • Chew gum, suck candy or mints
  • Take aspirin, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications, blood thinners, diuretics or prescription pain medication unless specifically ordered by your physician. If you are diabetic, ask your doctor for specific instructions about what you should eat and how to adjust your insulin.
  • Smoke. Ideally, you should quit a month before surgery. If you don't however, quit at least a week prior to surgery. Tell your doctor the truth. He/she may be able to help with a nicotine patch.
  • Wear make-up or nail polish. You'll wear a pulse-oximeter to measure your blood oxygen level during surgery. Nail polish can alter results. Makeup can camouflage skin color, which can be an important indicator on how well you're circulating blood and oxygen and tolerating surgery.
  • Wear jewelry
  • Wear contact lenses (you can bring them with you, but wear your glasses on the day of surgery).

Do tell your doctors if you're very nervous, worried or have any concerns about your surgery.  Don't hesitate to speak up and ask for anything you need to make your surgery a complete success and as comfortable as possible.  Remember, the most important person in that operating room is you.


National Institutes of Health

Preparing for Surgery