Common Medications Before, During, and After Surgery

The drugs commonly used before, during, and after surgical procedures vary widely from patient to patient. This is because the specific drugs you receive are based on the type of surgery you are having, the type of anesthesia, or pain control given. Any underlying health issues you may have also play a role in the choice of drugs used.

Nurse giving pill to a patient in hospital bed.
Eric Audras / Getty Images

This article will explore medications that may be used before, during, and after your surgery. It will also explain what to expect before and after your procedure.

What Happens Before Surgery?

Before surgery, you will meet with an anesthesiologist. They are specially trained doctors who administer drugs called anesthetics. These drugs impact how awake you are during surgery. They also help with pain control. During this meeting, you will go over your medical history and discuss anything you are currently using including:

  • Herbal supplements
  • Vitamins
  • Prescription medication
  • Illegal drugs
  • Over-the-counter drugs
  • Alcohol
  • Tobacco products

Some substances may affect how well you heal from your surgery. Be sure to give your doctor a complete list of what you are using.

Quitting smoking is ideal before your surgery. Doing so can help lower your risk of having wound healing issues, as well as lung complications, like pneumonia, after surgery.

What Medications Are Given Before Surgery?

Before your surgery, you may be given an antibiotic to help prevent infections. Antibiotics are used to combat bacteria. They are generally given in pill form, or intravenously, which is when medication is administered directly into a vein. 

The antibiotic given depends on the type of surgery a person is having. Common pre-operative antibiotics given are known as cephalosporins. These are typically given intravenously before surgery.

What Medications Are Given During Surgery?

During surgery, an individual may get:

  • Anesthesia, which helps with pain
  • Intubation drugs, which may involve a muscle relaxant given while a breathing tube is put in place
  • Sedatives, which are used to trigger sleepiness and relaxation


Both major and minor surgeries may require the use of anesthesia. Types of anesthesia include:

  • Local anesthesia: With local anesthesia, you are awake, and a drug is injected into the skin to block pain in a small area of the body.
  • Regional anesthesia: With regional anesthesia, you are awake, and a drug is injected to numb a larger part of the body.
  • General anesthesia: With general anesthesia, medication given intravenously or through a breathing mask is used to induce unconsciousness and ensure you don't feel any pain.

Diprivan (propofol) is a short-acting sedative that may be used for anesthesia.

Intubation Medications

Sometimes, a doctor will need to place a breathing tube down an individual's throat to make sure they are breathing properly during the surgery. A paralytic medication may be used to relax the muscles during intubation and surgery. Paralytic drugs may be used in addition to anesthetics.


Sedatives are drugs that are used to help with pain and nervousness. They may be given before surgery begins to help you feel calmer. While in surgery, you will continue to get this medication. You will be awake if not also under anesthesia. Sedatives may be given intravenously, in pill form, or inhaled through a mask.

What Medications Are Given After Surgery?

After surgery, drugs may be given to manage pain, reduce the risk of complications, and help with recovery.


Analgesics are drugs that are used to help with pain after surgery. They can be given intravenously, in pill form, and as a liquid. They may also be given as a patch, where the medication is taken in through the skin.

Many post-operative analgesics contain opioids, which are a class of pain-relieving drugs. These may cause uncomfortable side effects. Because of this, sometimes opioids are given along with other medications, like Tylenol, to reduce side effects while still keeping the patient comfortable.

Common opioid medications given in the hospital after surgery include morphine and hydromorphone.

Upon discharge from the hospital, pain medications may be given including:


Analgesics may be given in the hospital and upon discharge to help with pain.


Blood clots, which occur when blood changes from a liquid to a gel consistency, may form as a result of surgery. Because of this, anticoagulant medications may be given to help thin the blood and prevent clots. Anticoagulant medication may be given intravenously or as an injection.

Anticoagulant medications include:

Symptom-Reducing Medications

Your doctor may give you medications to help with discomfort or the side effects of other pain medications that you are taking.

Types of symptom-reducing drugs may include:

  • Acid reducers, which help with conditions like ulcers and heartburn, such as Pepcid (famotidine)
  • Stool softeners and stimulant laxatives to help with constipation
  • Anti-nausea medications like Zofran (ondansetron)

What Happens After Surgery?

When your surgery is over, you will go to a recovery room. There, your vitals will be monitored and your pain managed.

If staying overnight, you will move to a hospital room to recover. Healthcare providers will continue to check your vitals.

Surgeons may have specific instructions for you, like how to properly care for your surgical wound. Your doctor may also order blood tests to check for signs of bleeding or infection.


After surgery, your vitals will be closely watched. Your doctor may order specific tests to make sure you are recovering well.


Before taking any medication, you will go over your medical history with your doctor. This is done to make sure that anything you are currently taking won't interfere with your surgery or recovery.

Before surgery, you may be given an antibiotic to help prevent an infection. This may be given in pill form or intravenously.

Depending on the type of surgery you are having, you may receive anesthesia, intubation drugs, and/or sedatives.

After surgery, you may be given medications to help with pain and anticoagulants to reduce the chance of blood clots. You may also be given other drugs to help with constipation, nausea, and stomach discomfort.

A Word From Verywell

Medications can help make your procedure and recovery easier to deal with. Be sure to discuss any concerns you may have with your doctor about your medications and their side effects. Remember, the goal is to ensure you feel as comfortable as possible before, during, and after your surgery.

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Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Jennifer Whitlock, RN, MSN, FN
Jennifer Whitlock, RN, MSN, FNP-C, is a board-certified family nurse practitioner. She has experience in primary care and hospital medicine.