What Do I Do if I'm Sick and I'm Supposed to Have Surgery? (2023)

Getting a cold or other illness right before surgery may or may not delay the scheduled procedure. If your illness is related to the reason you're having surgery, such as chest pain, then heart surgery is likely to be performed as planned. If you're sick with a respiratory condition (like bronchitis or pneumonia) or a contagious illness (like the flu or chickenpox), your surgery will likely be postponed.

For many people, preparing for surgery 410 is a process that may take weeks or even months before the procedure is actually done. There may be many tests, a search for the right surgeon or a second opinion, and decisions about where to have surgery done.

Your careful planning is meant to ensure the best possible health outcomes. Yet it can be upended entirely if you start feeling sick before your procedure.

This article discusses the types of illnesses that may delay surgery, as well as those that likely won't. It will help you know what to tell your surgeon regarding any symptoms they should know about.

What Do I Do if I'm Sick and I'm Supposed to Have Surgery? (1)

Illness May or May Not Delay Surgery

Across the world, surgeries are canceled every day. A literature review that looked at these events over a 10-year period found that 18% of planned procedures were canceled on the day they were meant to occur. Change in patient health was the cause in nearly one out of every four such events.

In some cases, your illness may be related to the reason for your surgery. For example, you may be experiencing severe chest pain due to coronary artery disease. If you are scheduled for open-heart surgery to improve that condition, it would likely go on as planned.

On the other hand, if you are diagnosed with influenza before elective surgery, there's a good chance it will be postponed. A respiratory infection or stomach flu might delay surgery too.

There are reasons why feeling unwell could lead to a canceled procedure. That said, there are also reasons why your health changes would give cause to move forward.

The decision also depends on how long an illness typically takes to resolve. Strep throat, for example, is no longer contagious after 24 hours of antibiotics. It might not delay surgery.

Usually, your surgeon will make a final decision on whether to move forward. They will consider factors such as how severe your illness is and what type of surgery you have planned.

When to Notify a Surgeon

If you are sick in the days leading up to surgery, be sure to tell your surgeon—and the sooner, the better. Only your surgeon can decide if your symptoms are severe enough to lead to a delay.

If you are experiencing a minor illness in the week prior to surgery, or a moderate to severe illness in the two weeks before surgery, notify your surgeon immediately.

You may think it makes sense to wait in the hopes of getting better in time, but keep in mind that you may be charged some fees for a surgery that's canceled at the last minute.


A change in your health, such as a case of the flu, may lead to a canceled surgery. In other cases, worsening symptoms may mean that there's all the more reason to move forward with surgery that's related to the condition. Tell your surgeon right away if you become ill within a week or two of your procedure date.

10 Things to Tell Your Surgeon Before Surgery

Conditions That May Delay Surgery

There are quite a few health conditions that might require a postponement of your surgery. Among them are several respiratory illnesses.

In particular, health issues that affect your breathing may lead to cancellation because they complicate the use of anesthesia needed during your procedure.

Asthma Symptoms

Asthma alone is not a reason to cancel surgery. However, any serious increase in asthma symptoms in the days or weeks leading up to surgery may lead to a delay until the problem improves.

People who have severe asthma symptoms ahead of their surgery are at a higher risk for complications from the procedure. Let your surgeon know right away if your asthma symptoms worsen prior to your surgery date.

The Risks of Undergoing Surgery If You Have Asthma

Breathing Problems

Breathing problems can lead to the delay or cancellation of a procedure. Patients who have general anesthesia are at increased risk for breathing difficulties, including pneumonia.

For that reason, pulmonary function tests may be done to make sure that you are breathing as well as possible. This is intended to reduce the risk of breathing problems after surgery.

A new diagnosis of a severe breathing problem may postpone surgery or lead to a canceled surgery. Temporary breathing issues that may delay a procedure include:

  • Severe cough
  • Bronchitis
  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath

What Is Dyspnea?

Common Cold

Whether your surgery is postponed or not will depend on your symptoms. If it's a mild cold with a runny nose, but no other symptoms, the surgery is likely to be done as planned. If the cold is more severe, you have a sinus infection, a bad cough, or a sore throat, the surgery will likely be postponed.

Respiratory infections may make it harder for you to get enough oxygen while under anesthesia. Call your surgeon's office before the procedure so they can help you decide whether it's safe to continue with the surgery or if it makes more sense to wait.

Usually after two weeks of your cold or sinus infection symptoms being resolved, you can go ahead with the surgery.

Contagious Illness

A contagious illness, such as chickenpox or measles, will usually delay your surgery. You can expect it to be postponed until you are no longer contagious, unless the procedure is so critical that it absolutely cannot wait.

Signs, Symptoms, and Complications of Chickenpox


A fever can lead to a delay in surgery, particularly if it is very high or unexplained. A low-grade temperature may not lead to a delay in surgery.

One study found that fever, along with respiratory illness, was among the reasons for cancellation in 24% of all elective surgeries where the patient's condition was the cause of the delay. Those rates were even higher during winter months when fever-related infection was more likely.

Keep in mind that a delayed surgery is all the more likely when the reason for the fever is not known.

An Overview of Fevers


Infection in the week or two prior to surgery can be cause for delay, depending on the type.

A minor infection, such as a skin or urinary tract infection, is less likely to lead to a delay in your procedure. Whereas major infections, such as sepsis or meningitis, may cause your surgery to be delayed.

What Are Infectious Diseases?


A bout of influenza, or flu, can be the reason for a delay in your surgery. However, most cases of the flu will typically be over within a week.

Serious complications of the flu are fairly rare, so most people with a case of the flu will see a brief delay before the procedure.


Fever or infection, including the flu, will likely lead to a canceled or rescheduled procedure. In some cases, the decision will depend on how critical the surgery is and the severity of the infection.

Sore Throat

The cause of your sore throat and the urgency of your surgery will likely determine whether to postpone the procedure or not. A mild sore throat with no other symptoms may not be a reason to cancel your surgery. However, the anesthetic used during surgery may make a sore throat worse for a few days.

A severe sore throat, including strep throat or tonsillitis (swollen, inflamed tonsils), is a reason to delay surgery. Let your doctor's office know if you've had a sore throat in the two weeks before your surgery. They will decide whether it's safe to go ahead with the surgery or postpone it.

Uncontrolled Diabetes

Uncontrolled diabetes can increase the risks of complications after surgery. High glucose, or blood sugar, levels can increase the risk of infections. It also may lead to slow wound healing and increased recovery times.

For this reason, problems with diabetes may lead to delayed surgery until your blood sugar is under better control.

Risks of Surgery When You Have Diabetes


Any vomiting symptom can be a cause for surgery delay. Vomiting during surgery can cause aspiration pneumonia, a serious complication from food or liquid getting into the lungs.

Vomiting after surgery can cause other problems too. It may increase pain and put more stress on some types of incisions. This can make the recoveryprocess more difficult.

One exception to the rule may be when the surgery is meant to correct the vomiting. That's more likely when the surgery is intended to correct a digestive tract disorder.


There are a few possible outcomes when you get sick before a scheduled surgery. There may be no delay, for example, with a minor illness. There also may be no delay when the changes in your health are a part of the condition that the surgery is meant to correct.

Often, though, your procedure may need to be postponed if you have symptoms like vomiting or trouble breathing. Be sure to let your surgeon know about your illness while there's still plenty of time for them to make a decision about whether to proceed.


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