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Why it's important to control your blood sugar before surgery

If you have diabetes, you probably already know how important controlling your blood sugar is to your overall health. But if you are having surgery, well-controlled blood sugar also can play a critical role in helping your body heal and fight off infection after your procedure.

If you’ve been struggling to control your blood sugar for a long time, you may think that the few weeks before your surgery won’t be enough time to make a meaningful difference. Or, if you’ve recently been diagnosed with diabetes, you may feel overwhelmed. You may worry that you won’t be able to get your blood sugar under control quickly enough.

The truth is that the weeks or months before your surgery can make a difference. Making changes to your medications, diet and exercise habits may be enough to make a real difference in your blood sugar levels. And it could help you heal more quickly and avoid infection after your procedure.

And that’s where UPMC in Central Pa.’s Surgery Optimization Clinic can help.

Why Controlling Blood Sugar Matters

People who have uncontrolled high blood sugar heal more slowly and can develop infections more easily. Here are three reasons why:

1. Poor circulation

Your wound needs a healthy supply of blood and oxygen to help it heal after surgery. High blood sugar levels can harden and narrow your blood vessels. As a result, blood cells that carry oxygen and nutrients have a harder time reaching your wound. And this can slow the healing process. The longer it takes your wound to heal, the higher the risk that harmful bacteria could get inside your body through your open wound and cause an infection.

2. Immune system problems

High blood sugar levels can cause problems with your immune system. That makes you more likely to develop an infection after surgery. If you have uncontrolled diabetes, your high blood sugar levels can cause your white blood cells to lose some of their infection-fighting power. That means you would have a more difficult time fighting off any harmful bacteria that happened to get inside your body through your open skin wound.

3. Diabetic neuropathy

High blood sugar can cause people who have diabetes to develop a condition called diabetic neuropathy. This results in nerve damage and a loss of feeling in your legs, feet or other areas of your body. This lack of sensation can make it difficult for you to notice signs of infection.
If you develop an infection, it will not only slow your recovery, but you may need to take antibiotics, have another surgery or spend more time in the hospital. The longer an infection remains untreated, the more likely it is to cause serious complications.

Getting the Support You Need Before Surgery

If your surgeon thinks you may be at risk for complications related to high blood sugar, they may refer you to the Surgery Optimization Clinic.

In addition to a head-to-toe exam, you will receive pre-surgery education about how you can lower your risk for problems after surgery. Together, you and your nurse practitioner will make a step-by-step plan to help you achieve your goal of controlling your blood sugar levels. This may include referral to diabetes education programs or other specialists who can help.

As you work toward your goal of controlling your blood sugar, you will receive follow-up calls from our nurse care coordinators to check on your progress. We also will share your progress with your surgeon, family doctor, endocrinologist and other health care providers so they can decide the best course for your care.

Reducing Your Risks for Surgery Complications

The specialists at the Surgery Optimization Clinic can help you take the first steps toward controlling your blood sugar levels and reducing your risks of complications after surgery. For more information, talk to surgeon or call us at 717-782-4785.

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