What Are Possible Concerns with NSAIDs and Surgery?

David Bishop

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are medications given to patients to help relieve pain and swelling from injury or certain medical conditions. Commonly prescribed drugs in this category include aspirin and ibuprofen. While these drugs can help patients deal with their symptoms, many NSAIDs have short- and long-term side effects that can impact patient health. These effects make it important to discuss the possible concerns of NSAIDs and surgery with a physician when considering a medical procedure. Patients taking regular doses of NSAIDs should always list these drugs prominently on new patient or hospital admission forms.


Aspirin, or acetylsalicylic acid, is a common NSAID taken to help relieve the symptoms resulting from injury or a variety of medical conditions. In addition to its action as a pain and fever reducer, aspirin also helps prevent blood clots from forming over long periods of time. While this can be advantageous for patients at risk of heart attack or stroke, this effect also can cause excessive bleeding during an operation. This is a common concern of NSAIDs and surgery, and patients are usually advised to stop taking aspirin and other NSAIDs for a week before an invasive medical procedure, so the drugs will be out of their systems. Even fairly minor outpatient procedures such as colonoscopies may require patients to refrain from taking NSAIDs.

Aspirin can cause excessive bleeding during surgery.
Aspirin can cause excessive bleeding during surgery.

While excessive bleeding is one of the main concerns of NSAIDs and surgery, these drugs have other unintended side effects that can have a negative impact on the outcome of a medical procedure. Patients who are experiencing abdominal pain may be asked to stop taking NSAIDs because of these drugs' tendency to cause stomach ulcers, nausea, vomiting and issues such as kidney and liver problems. These symptoms can mask more serious symptoms or mislead surgeons during the recovery period.

Post-operative patients are typically given pain relievers containing acetaminophen or other analgesic medications that do not interfere with the body's natural healing process. These drugs are selected because they do not present the same problems that exist with NSAIDS and surgery. Patients should remember that any drug may have harmful side effects that should be reported to a doctor if they occur.

When planning any medical procedure, a patient should consult with his physician or surgeon and be sure to advise the medical professional about all the drugs he has been taking. While NSAIDs and surgery do present serious concerns, there also are other classes of drugs that can cause problems and the medical team should be informed about their use, too. Patients may need to consult with several different doctors before and after their surgery and will need to report their intake of NSAIDs and other medications to all of them.

Patients taking NSAIDs are usually advised to stop taking them a week before any invasive medical procedures.
Patients taking NSAIDs are usually advised to stop taking them a week before any invasive medical procedures.

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