Preventing Nausea After Surgery

Anesthesia drugs may be used to put you to sleep and/or prevent pain during your surgery, both welcome benefits. However, those same drugs may cause you to feel nauseous and to retch or vomit. The good news is that you can request pretreatment with anti-nausea (antiemetic) drugs.

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Risk Factors for Nausea

It's true that not everybody gets sick after surgery. If you're an adult and have the following risk factors, you may have a greater chance of having postoperative nausea and vomiting:

  • Female
  • Nonsmoker
  • History of motion sickness
  • A previous episode of postoperative nausea and vomiting
  • Surgery that takes more than 30 minutes
  • General anesthesia using nitrous oxide
  • An opiate drug given for pain after the surgery

Signs and Symptoms of a Reaction to Anesthesia

If you have a bad reaction to anesthesia, you might vomit enough fluids to cause dehydration, resulting in low levels of electrolytes and minerals circulating in your system. Retching and repeated vomiting can leave your abdominal muscles feeling sore and weak. In rare cases, you can develop a rip in the lining of the tissue at the end of your esophagus where it meets your stomach, in which case you might see some blood when you vomit. There are good treatments for all of these problems, but you must speak up and ask for help if you need it.

Medication to Prevent Nausea

Your anesthesiologist can help you prevent nausea caused by anesthesia drugs. You can be given special medications just before surgery that will prevent or greatly reduce your nausea and vomiting. Be sure to take these medications exactly as prescribed because otherwise, they might not work at all. Your anesthesiologist can also give you anti-nausea drugs in your intravenous line during surgery. In the recovery room, you can be given pills or a scopolamine patch behind your ear to help prevent post-surgical nausea and vomiting. Many of these nausea medications will make you drowsy, so just take it easy and allow yourself to doze off.

A Drug-Free Option

If you want to try a drug-free alternative, consider an acupressure wristband. A recent review of data from 59 studies showed that when patients had wrist acupuncture or acupressure with a wristband, the effect was similar to taking medication in combatting nausea and vomiting, with fewer side effects. Pressure on your P6 wrist acupressure point signals your brain to release serotonin, dopamine, or endorphins, which block other chemicals that are causing the nausea and vomiting.

Talk to Your Anesthesiologist

You will meet with your anesthesiologist at your pre-operative appointment or just before surgery. It's to your benefit to be honest and accurate when talking to an anesthesiologist about your health. Let him or her know if you've had trouble with anesthesia in the past. Be sure to share about any allergies you might have. Talk about any pain, nausea, or vomiting that you've had related to surgery. Ask what treatments can be given to help you. If you're nervous about surgery, you can even ask for a sedative. During your surgery, your anesthesiologist will be responsible for keeping you comfortable and watching your vital signs. Your anesthesiologist is interested in your safety and comfort during and after surgery. Be open with him or her to make your journey safer and easier

A Word From Verywell

Surgery for breast cancer is a very stressful experience for most of us. We worry about the outcome as well as having immediate fears related to pain and being nauseous. There are medications that will relieve both the pain and nausea following surgery. If you receive morphine to manage postoperative pain following a mastectomy, you may experience nausea as a side effect of the morphine, in addition to nausea as a result of surgery and anesthesia. Be sure to ask for something to relieve the nausea because you need to be able to eat and sleep, and nausea can make it harder for you to do so.

4 Sources
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.
  1. Hauser JM, Azzam JS, Kasi A. Antiemetic Medications. In: StatPearls. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing.

  2. Shaikh SI, Nagarekha D, Hegade G, Marutheesh M. Postoperative nausea and vomiting: A simple yet complex problem. Anesth Essays Res. 2016;10(3):388-396. doi:10.4103/0259-1162.179310

  3. Weibel S, Jelting Y, Pace NL, et al. Drugs for preventing postoperative nausea and vomiting in adults after general anaesthesia: a network meta‐analysisCochrane Database Syst Rev. 2017;2017(11):CD012859. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD012859

  4. Cooke M, Rapchuk I, Doi SA, et al. Wrist acupressure for post-operative nausea and vomiting (WrAP): A pilot study. Complement Ther Med. 2015;23(3):372-80. doi:10.1016/j.ctim.2015.03.007

Additional Reading

By Pam Stephan
Pam Stephan is a breast cancer survivor.