If you’ve had surgery before, you were probably told not to eat or drink anything for a specified amount of time beforehand. There are several reasons for this, but many people don’t know why it’s so important.
When you’re under general anesthetic, your body’s natural reflexes are put on hold. Because of this, there is a greater risk of vomiting if your stomach has food in it. You could also regurgitate the food and have it come up the throat but not out the mouth. If either of these situations occur, food and stomach acid could get into your lungs and affect your breathing. It could also damage your lungs and lead to aspiration.
Aspirated food can lead to a lung infection called aspiration pneumonia. This is caused by inhaling foreign material. It can be treated with antibiotics or steroids like other types of pneumonia. However, avoiding eating before surgery can help keep this condition from occurring.
Postoperative nausea and vomiting (PONV) could also occur if you eat before surgery. This is one of the most common complications people experience after surgery and normally occurs if food is in the stomach while the body is under anesthesia. While it can be treated with anti-nausea medication, it’s far easier to prevent by fasting before surgery.
Any time you go under general anesthesia, be sure to listen to your doctor and follow their instructions. If you have questions about why you should or should not do something, ask! They will be happy to explain anything you don’t understand.