Anesthesiologist standing over patient who has been intubated for sedation with anesthesia

What Side Effects of Anesthesia should I expect after I have tummy tuck surgery?  This question is asked consistently by men and women who are planning to undergo abdominoplasty.  As with any surgery, anesthesia may be involved and you should be aware and prepared for potential side effects post-surgical experience.

Woman laying on an operating table with anesthetic mask over her face

What Side Effects of Anesthesia Should I Expect? 

As you prepare for your tummy tuck surgery, you will be consulting not only with your surgeon but also with an anesthesiologist.  Below there are many items that are commonly known as side effects of anesthesia.  Remember that your best and most accurate information on what to expect will come from your physician. Please seek medical consult before making any decisions regarding your health.

Temporary Memory Loss

This sounds more frightening than it actually is for most people.  The use of a drug called, Versed, is a common practice when you are being put under for a surgical procedure.  There are other medications as well that offer similar benefits.  This medication in your IV will allow you to relax and create a short term memory loss that will allow you to not recall discomfort as you go under during a procedure.  It is a benzodiazepine and thus a central nervous system depressant.

While this does cause a bit of memory loss, it will be minimal in most cases.  You will find yourself unable to remember much about those minutes right before surgery, and likely will struggle to remember the first few minutes after you wake up in recovery post-surgery.

Sore Throat and Coughing

While being put under anesthesia for surgery doesn’t always require intubation, it is a common practice for safety.  The tube placed in your throat can cause minor irritation that results in a mild sore throat for a few days post-surgery.  The coughing associated with the irritated throat is a very common side effect of anesthesia.  It is most bothersome as it often jars your core where you may have sensitive incisions and sore muscles.

Up close picture of a womans neck being held by her hand as if it is sore or hurting

For those who are having a hernia or muscle repair along with their tummy tuck procedure, it is important to be prepared with a sore throat spray and some cough drops or lozenges for your recovery period.  This will help the urge to cough stay at bay, and thus protect you from the unexpected pain that comes with coughing.

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Difficulty with Urination

Depending on the length of your surgery, you may find that your physician inserts a Foley catheter while you are under anesthetic.  This is most often used for those under for longer than 1-2 hours.  This is to make sure your body is releasing urine properly during surgery.

If you did have a catheter, you are likely to never feel it is inserted or removed as it will be done after you are asleep and before you wake up in recovery.  For some surgeries that are more in-depth, if a patient will be staying overnight in the hospital, they may leave the foley catheter in place for 24 hours to limit the patient getting up and down and irritating new incisions.

As a result of being catheterized, some patients find they have a bit of burning or stinging with urination as a side effect of anesthesia post-surgery.  Others may find that their muscles in the pelvic region are slow to wake up and thus urination takes a little more effort.  Both of these can be normal, but difficulties past the first 24 hours after surgery may indicate a further issue that should be addressed.  Make sure that you consult with your physician with any and all concerns about urination.

Anesthesiologist standing over patient who has been intubated for sedation with anesthesia

Extreme Cold and Shivering

One common side effect of anesthesia is to find yourself unusually cold and shivering in the recovery room.  Everyone else may break a sweat while you have teeth chattering.  This is not uncommon and is typically something that goes away within the first few hours after surgery.

This is most often a result of your body temperature dropping during surgery.  Do not worry, a dropping temperature is typically a very normal and expected part of the surgery.  Your physicians will be watching it closely throughout the procedure to make sure it doesn’t go too low.

Note: This can also be one of the signs of infection after a surgical procedure so make sure you are staying aware of how your entire body is healing.

Extreme Exhaustion as a Side Effect of Anesthesia

Anesthesia naturally depresses your nervous system and causes you to relax.  After you wake up from surgery, you will find yourself battling to stay awake and alert. The combination of medications used in your anesthetic along with the trauma to your body from surgery creates a need for extra sleep.  While it may be a bit annoying, don’t fight this.  Allow your body to rest as it is needed.

Brunette woman laying on a pillow with arms above her head and eyes closed as if she is asleep

Nausea and Vomiting

The number one side effect of anesthesia is nausea and vomiting.  This is most often due to a large number of pain medications administered during a surgical procedure.  While it is a common problem, most anesthesiologists will do their best to prevent this from happening.  If medications in general, and specifically pain medications, cause you to have nausea or vomiting, make sure to alert your surgeon and the anesthesia team.  Ask for extra precautions to be taken.  There is a multitude of additional medication they can include that are anti-nausea and will help control this side effect.

If you are one of the patients who still suffer from nausea or vomiting post-surgery, there are a few things that can help with symptom relief.

  • Request an anti-nausea medication like Zofran, Compazine, or Phenergan to be prescribed
  • Eat at least a small amount of food with any pain medications you take
  • Stay hydrated as much as possible – surgery dehydrates your body and you will need to replenish regularly and more than normal during in the first 72 hours after surgery.  Ice chips are a great place to start if you don’t feel up to drinking.
  • Sip ginger or peppermint tea
  • Utilize ginger or peppermint essential oils for aromatherapy
  • Try Sea-Bands or acupressure techniques
  • Sniff rubbing alcohol (this seems odd but is very common in recovery rooms and works well)

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Surgeons hand injecting local anesthetic into stomach of individual laying on surgical table


Since anesthesia is a depressant, it will also affect your bowels.  Constipation is a common struggle after any surgical procedure that requires a general anesthetic.  Being prepared for this will make your recovery significantly easier to manage.  As a tummy tuck patient, you will not want to use those muscles much in the first few days post-surgery.  Straining for a bowel movement can cause damage to the recently repaired muscles. Preventative measures are highly recommended.

Start taking a stool softener 2-3 days prior to your surgery date.  Continue taking stool softeners post-surgery for at least the first 1-2 weeks.  Having loose stool is much easier to manage than straining for a movement. Regularly drink hot tea like Smooth Move Tea, eat plenty of fiber, use fiber supplements, stay hydrated, and avoid extremely fatty foods.

If you are still struggling and feel these methods are not helping, other good options to promote elimination are gentle laxatives, magnesium citrate, laxative suppositories, or an enema.

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Always Consult Your Physician Regarding Side Effects from Anesthesia

While this list is a great place to start in learning more of what you should expect, it cannot and does not replace the advice of your physician.  Some side effects affect individuals differently and may be signs of infection, difficulty healing, or other underlying conditions.  Regardless of how commonplace something may seem, always check with your surgeon and physician with any side effect or issue after a surgical procedure.

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