Postoperative Care after Hernia Repair

After hernia repair surgery, the patient is taken to the postanesthesia care unit (PACU). Patients are closely monitored by the nursing staff and remain there until they are stable. The amount of time spent in the PACU depends on the patient's progress and on the type of anesthesia they received. Patients given general anesthesia must be awake and coherent before they leave the PACU.

Ice chips are offered to the patient in the PACU, and if those are tolerated, water is given. The intravenous line remains in place until clear liquids can be taken and tolerated. This may occur almost immediately following surgery, especially if a local anesthetic was used. Sometimes general anesthesia can induce nausea, which may delay taking oral fluids. Once clear liquids are tolerated, the diet progresses to solid foods.

Patients are transferred from the PACU to the outpatient or ambulatory unit, where recovery is completed. Inpatients return to their room. Most patients go home once they are up and walking around. Even though the anesthesia has worn off, most patients remain groggy for the rest of the day. Patients must make arrangements for a family member or friend to be with them upon discharge, if they are going home the day of surgery.

Spinal anesthesia usually wears off within a few hours. In the first hour following surgery, patients usually lie flat on their back to decrease the chance of an anesthetic-induced headache, which can be painful and prolonged. A patient must regain full sensation in the region of their body that was numbed before being discharged.

Patients experience pain at the incision site, especially conventional procedure patients. Medication is prescribed and taken as directed. Swelling and discoloration usually develops around the incision and eventually disappears in the healing process. Some soreness can be expected during the first 24 to 48 hours.

The tiny incisions made during laparoscopic surgery are held together by steri-strips that fall off in about a week to 10 days. Patients can take a shower within two days after surgery. Regular sutures or staples usually hold together the large incision made in the open procedure. The wound must be kept dry until it begins to heal, so patients may have to take sponge baths for the first few postoperative days to avoid getting the wound wet.

Resuming Activity after Hernia Repair

The laparoscopic hernia repair allows patients to return to their normal routine much more quickly. Some people can return to work in just a few days. Recovery from the conventional surgery takes a little longer because there is more pain and soreness around the wound. Generally, a patient can be guided by the amount of discomfort they feel. Any activity, such as driving, that causes pain and puts a strain on the incision should be avoided until it can be comfortably tolerated. The same holds true for work. People with desk jobs usually can return to work within a week or two. People whose jobs require strenuous activity or heavy lifting may need several more weeks of healing before they return to work.

Straining during a bowel movement also puts strain on the incision. It is therefore important that patients eat a high-fiber diet and drink plenty of fluids to avoid constipation. A stool softener may be prescribed by the physician.

Most doctors ask that their patients to return in about a week for a follow-up visit. At this time, all stitches will be removed.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 01 Nov 2001

Last Modified: 21 Aug 2012