Every patient is asked before surgery, "What medications do you take?" Yet 40% to 70% of patients do not report their use of herbal supplements-typically because they don't think of supplements as medication.

The concern: Though many herbs generally are safe, when you are undergoing or recovering from surgery-even a minor procedure certain herbs can lead to potentially serious side effects, such as...

Bleeding problems: Some herbs thin the blood, possibly complicating surgery and delaying healing. These include…

  • Dong quai, commonly used for menstrual cramps and menopausal symptoms.
  • Feverfew, for arthritis and headache.
  • Garlic, to stimulate the immune system.
  • Ginkgo biloba, used for eye disorders, cognitive problems and vertigo.
  • Ginseng, used for stress.

Cardiovascular side effects: Postoperative hypertension, heart palpitations or other serious heart problems may develop if you are taking…

  • Feverfew, for arthritis and headache.
  • Garlic, for immune-strengthening. Drug interactions: The actions and side effects of drugs commonly given before, during or after surgery-such as lidocaine (an anesthetic) and midazolam (a sedative)-may be intensified by…
  • Echinacea, for cold and flu.
  • Goldenseal, taken to relieve digestive and respiratory problems.

Photosensitivity: If you have laser surgery, you may develop a severe light-sensitivity rash if you are taking…

  • Dong quai, for menstrual and menopausal symptoms.
  • St. John's wort, for anxiety.

Reaction to anesthesia: Herbs that prolong sedation include…

  • Kava, a sedative.
  • St. John's wort, for anxiety.
  • Valerian, for insomnia.

Self-defense: Follow these steps…

  • A month before any scheduled surgery, give your doctor a list of every supplement and medication that you take.
  • Even if your doctor is not concerned, it is safest to discontinue all supplements at least two weeks before surgery.
  • On the day of your operation, remind your surgeon about any recent supplement use and also show your list to the anesthesiologist.
  • Carry a personal health record that lists all supplements and drugs you take. If you need emergency surgery, doctors can take precautions.

*After surgery, wait until your doctor declares you sufficiently healed before you resume taking your supplements.

Exceptions: Though clinical research is limited, anecdotal evidence suggests that recovery may be hastened by…

  • Arnica, used for pain and inflammation.
  • Bromelain, an enzyme with analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties.

With your doctor's okay, consider taking arnica and/or bromelain (following dosage instructions on labels) starting the day after surgery.

Anesthesiologist's Sore Throat Secret

A licorice gargle before surgery can reduce A sore throat afterward. Patients who gargled with a licorice solution five minutes before an operation also had less postsurgical coughing. Sore throats and coughs are common after surgery involving general anesthesia with intubation. The licorice gargle is easy to make.

How to do it: Boil about one teaspoon of licorice powder in one-and-a-half cups of water, then filter. Gargle should stay at room temperature and be used within 24 hours. Licorice contains compounds with anti-inflammatory and anti-irritant effects. Ask your doctor for details.

Want to Keep Reading?

Continue reading with a Health Confidential membership.

Sign up now Already have an account? Sign in