Of the 310 million major surgeries performed around the world each year, 40 to 50 million are performed in the U.S. It’s estimated that 1–4% of these patients undergoing surgery will die as a result, up to 15% will have a severe postoperative illness or disease and 5–15% will be readmitted within 30 days. These alarming statistics were published by the U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institute of Health.
According to The National Veterans Administration Surgical Risk Study: Risk Adjustment for the Comparative Assessment of the Quality of Surgical Care, at least one complication occurs in 17% of surgical patients. These complications are categorized as infection (such as an infected wound), respiratory (such as pneumonia), and cardiac (such as cardiac arrest).
Even if a patient facing surgery isn’t aware of these risks, many are still worried about the procedure itself and going under anesthesia, which can lead to anxiety. This anxiety can have many causes, such as fear of the unknown or having had a bad experience with surgery—either personally or through a friend or relative. Some may fear the result of the surgery, such as a change in appearance after undergoing a mastectomy or an elective cosmetic surgery, such as a tummy tuck.
Many people do face an altered life after surgery. In many cases, the goal of surgery is to improve the quality of life for the patient, such as with a knee replacement. Other times the goal is to save a person’s life, as with an organ transplant. But sometimes, the result of surgery causes a person to adapt to a dramatically changed life, as with an amputation.
A patient’s emotional state, psychosocial concerns, behaviors, expectations and compliance with the post-surgical regimen all affect the surgery results.
Of course, the possibility of death is top-of-mind for many facing surgery. Fear of dying as a result of surgery can extend beyond the fear of death. It often includes anxiety about what will happen to their family if they aren’t around. Mothers of young children worry about how their death will affect them and how they will be taken care of. Breadwinners worry about how their families will survive without their income.
Financial concerns also occur when looking at the cost of the surgery. Even with good medical insurance paying 80%, the patient may still be responsible for paying thousands upon thousands of dollars out of pocket. Consider that hospital costs averaged $3,726 per day in California in 2020. That’s in addition to the cost of surgery.
All of these fears can compound, causing additional stress to a body whose health is already compromised. For some, these fears can be so intense that they experience physical symptoms such as a racing heart, nausea or chest pain. The more a person dwells on their fear, the more severe their anxiety may become—leading to a panic attack. Plus, if the patient has experienced anxiety in the past, they are more prone to experiencing it again.
Patients deciding to undergo elective cosmetic surgery may be at particular risk of developing self-esteem or other mental health issues if the surgery has less than desirable results. These surgeries can have a considerable impact on the appearance of the patient—either positive or negative.
Pre-surgical psychological evaluations are becoming more widely recommended and conducted because of their benefits. They are required for certain surgeries, such as bariatric surgery, and specific high-risk individuals. These evaluations can identify possible pre- or post-surgery risk factors and implement interventions to maximize the probability of surgical success. Yet, anyone facing surgery can benefit from exploring their fears with a mental health therapist and learning coping mechanisms to help them through pre and post-surgery concerns.
Learn more about Help Therapy's state-wide pre-surgical evaluations here.