The most common complications after surgery are minor and will heal with rest and medical care. However, when complications after surgery are caused by surgical or medical errors, patients can experience a variety of serious or life-threatening conditions that result in additional surgeries, disabilities, and the inability to return to their normal life.
Most Common Complications That Occur After Surgery
Because surgery involves cutting through your skin to get to body tissues and internal organs, there is likely to be some sort of reaction by the body. Depending on the type of surgical procedure being done, which tissues or organs are involved, how long the surgery takes, and the patient’s overall health, common complications after surgery may result in minor health problems that heal on their own or major health concerns that have a long-term or life-threatening impact on the patient.
What to Watch Out for After Surgery
Following any type of surgical procedure, it’s common for patients to experience minor complications that will heal within 30 to 60 days after surgery with bed rest and follow-up medical care. Minor complications to watch out for include:
- Body chills
- Constipation and gas (especially after abdominal surgery)
- Extreme fatigue and thirst (caused by pain and anesthesia)
- Nausea and vomiting (from general anesthesia)
- Itching and redness around the incision site
- Pain and swelling around the incision site
While minor complications from surgery are quite normal, other surgical complications can cause serious health issues that require immediate medical attention. Dangerous complications to watch out for include:
- Blood clots
- Breathing problems
- Deep vein thrombosis (DTV) or Pulmonary embolism (PE)
- Internal bleeding around tissues and organs
- Hemorrhage (bleeding from the incision site)
- Wound infections
Risk of Infection
Wound infections are common complications after surgery. They happen frequently and are caused by bacteria that enter the surgical site. If the wound infection is not caught early and properly treated, it can easily spread to the patient’s tissues or internal organs through the bloodstream. When this occurs, the patient is usually treated with one or two rounds of antibiotics or a surgical procedure to clean and drain the infected area around the wound site.
Surgical site infections typically occur within 30 days after surgery. Symptoms include delayed wound healing and fever, as well as pain, pus or discharge, skin warmth and redness, and swelling around the incision site. Most wound infections after surgery are caused by germs transmitted by air or touch from a surgical instrument during surgery, existing germs on the patient’s body, or a contaminated person who comes in contact with the patient. The most common infections include Staphylococcus, Streptococcus, and Pseudomonas.
Patients who have cancer, chronic illness, diabetes, and compromised immune systems, as well as patients undergoing abdominal or emergency surgery or surgery that lasts more than 2 hours have a much higher risk of developing wound infections after surgery. Elderly adults, smokers, and obese patients are also at higher risk. To avoid wound infections after surgery, it’s important to carefully follow your doctor’s instructions and notify your doctor as soon as any symptoms develop.
Top Reasons Why Surgical Errors Occur
It’s estimated that 250,000 patients die each year in the United States from some type of medical error. The prevalence of “never event” surgical errors is high. These types of errors result in many common complications after surgery, and sadly most of them are completely preventable. There are many reasons why surgical errors occur, but some of the most common are:
- The surgeon has a lack of experience or proper training
- The surgeon is not prepared for the surgical procedure
- The surgeon is rushing to complete the procedure
- The surgeon does not properly monitor the patient’s vital signs
- The surgeon does not communicate with staff and other doctors
- The surgeon is fatigued from overwork and sleep deprivation
Medical experts note a higher rate of surgical problems found in patients who undergo surgical procedures at night rather than during the day. This is linked to surgeons and surgical staff being more fatigued from working long hours or double shifts and not getting enough sleep. In such incidents, it was noted that surgeons and surgical staff had difficulty making quick decisions, slower reactions to emergency situations, and less communication in the operating room.
Surgical Errors Statistics
Medical statistics show that over 4,000 surgical errors occur every year in the United States. The most common surgical errors include anesthesia errors, cutting or puncturing organs, retained surgical sponges or gauze in patients, operating on the wrong body part, and operating on the wrong patient.
Surgical Procedures With the Highest Problem Rates
Surgical procedures occur every day, but some are more dangerous than others. While some procedures are considered routine with common complications after surgery, others are considered to be high-risk procedures due to the possibility of serious complications or death. High-risk surgeries are defined as those with a mortality rate greater than 5%. Procedures with the highest problem rates include:
- Abdominal Surgery – Abdominal surgery and exploratory abdominal surgery (laparotomy) are common procedures, but they are at the top of the list for high-risk surgeries. The mortality rate for these types of surgeries is 23.8% and the complication rate is 40.2%.
- Stomach Ulcer Surgery – Stomach ulcer surgery ranks third on the list of high-risk procedures. The mortality rate is 6.8% and the complication rate is 42%. This type of surgery is no longer required for bleeding ulcers, it’s only performed for perforated ulcers.
- Small Intestine Surgery – Small intestine surgery ranks fourth in high-risk procedures. The mortality rate for this type of surgery is 6.5%, and the complication rate is 46.9%. This surgery is often required to remove abdominal scar tissue or some type of blockage that restricts blood flow.
- Large Intestine Surgery – Large intestine surgery (also called colon surgery) ranks fifth in high-risk procedures. The mortality rate is 5.3% and the complication rate is 42.8%. Diverticulitis and infections in pouches that rupture are the main reasons for this surgery.
How to Prove Medical Malpractice in Illinois
If you are injured by a surgical error, you can file a medical malpractice lawsuit against the responsible party, but you need a surgical error lawyer who can establish proof of three important factors: 1- Duty of care, 2- Breach of duty of care, 3- Causation, and 4- damages.
Duty of Care
In a medical malpractice case, the injured patient (the plaintiff) must establish that the healthcare provider owed a legal duty of care to him or her. To establish proof, the patient must demonstrate that there was a relationship between the healthcare provider and the patient at the time the alleged malpractice occurred. The relationship is one that is voluntary and entered into by mutual agreement. By law, all healthcare providers including surgeons, doctors, nurses, therapists, and hospitals owe a duty of care to their patients.
Breach of Duty of Care
Breach of duty of care is an essential component in medical malpractice cases. When a duty of care is established between the patient and the healthcare provider, and that duty is not adhered to by the healthcare provider, a breach of duty occurs. This constitutes negligent actions against the party that breached the duty of care.
Causation and Damages
For a valid medical malpractice claim, the patient must prove that he or she sustained damages as a result of the medical professional’s actions. If proof is established, the patient can recover compensation for his or her lost wages due to time away from work, medical expenses for surgery, doctors’ visits, medications, therapy sessions, home visits, and home-health aids, emotional distress, and pain and suffering. If the patient suffers permanent injuries or disabilities, he or she can recover compensation for future lost wages and future medical expenses as well.
When you’re pursuing a medical malpractice case in Illinois, your surgical error lawyer will handle the case and assign monetary damages to your injuries. Compensation will include both economic and non-economic damage awards. In some cases, your lawyer may negotiate a fair settlement outside of court, rather than filing a civil lawsuit, but only if it’s more advantageous for you and all parties can agree on the terms of the settlement. Settlements in medical malpractice cases often result in large payouts to victims, and statistics show that 80% of medical malpractice cases are settled out of court.
Chicago personal injury and workers’ compensation attorney Howard Ankin has a passion for justice and a relentless commitment to defending injured victims throughout the Chicagoland area. With decades of experience achieving justice on behalf of the people of Chicago, Howard has earned a reputation as a proven leader in and out of the courtroom. Respected by peers and clients alike, Howard’s multifaceted approach to the law and empathetic nature have secured him a spot as an influential figure in the Illinois legal system.