One third of the Americans, which is most commonly women ages 40-60 years old, are taking over-the-counter herbal supplements; 70% of these patients are either forgetting or refusing to tell their doctor that they are taking herbal supplements. Some patient may forget that they are even taking herbal supplements, due to the fact that it is in their beverages, such as herbal ice tea. Other patients are concerned that if they tell their doctor, the doctor may recommend them to stop taking the herb. Even though herbal supplements can be bought from health stores without a prescription, does not mean that they are harmless. What is important to realize about herbal supplements is that they are not approved or declared as safe by the Food and Drug Administration. Companies are able to sell their supplements simply by presenting information to the Food and Drug Administration about why they feel that their product is safe and what conditions it can be used to treat; the Food and Drug Administration will not run tests on the herbal medications to prove their safety nor side effects when taking with other medications. In fact, there is currently an increase in the number of patients that are having adverse side effects when mixing with the herbal supplements and even more severe surgical complications. If your doctor prescribes you a medication, be sure to ask them if it is safe for you to continue to take the herbal supplements.
If you are planning on getting surgery, it is important to one tell your doctor, which herbal supplements, how much, and how often you are taking them. Most herbal supplements will need to stop being taken 2-3 weeks prior to the surgery. The list below is of harmful effects that herbal supplements can cause when not stopped before surgery.
• Increased bleeding due to the inability to clot normally: St. John’s Wort, vitamin E, garlic, ginkgo, ginseng, fish oil/omega-3-fatty acids, dong quai, feverfew, bromelain, ginger, and danshen
• Lengthen the duration of anesthesia effects: Valerian and kava
• Interact with antibiotics that may be needed after surgery: Bromelain
• Causes electrolyte imbalances, which are important to maintain: Senna
• Increase blood pressure: Ephedra, ginseng, goldenseal, and licorice
• Alter the immune function of the patient or interact with immunosuppressant medications: Echinacea
• Causes increased swelling after surgery: Goldenseal
This list does not include all herbal supplements and their adverse side effects with surgery, so be sure to tell your surgeon before your operation at least 2-3 weeks in advance.
An additional note about preparing for surgery is to stop smoking and/or using nicotine gum, patches, or other nicotine products. Nicotine causes the blood vessels to shrink, which will lead to a decreased healing potential of the surgery site. It is recommended and some surgeons will require that the use of nicotine products is stopped at least 2 months before surgery and that it is not used for 3 months or until the surgical site has finished healing after surgery. If you are unsure when the last time you used nicotine was, there is a blood test that your surgeon will do before surgery to make sure that your body is cleared of nicotine.

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