Medications Given for Anxiety Before Major Surgery


Using prescription medications for anxiety is not new, but some anxiety medications are more tailored to specific issues than other medications. One issue that's especially anxiety-provoking for a lot of people—whether or not they have an anxiety disorder—is surgery. Sedating a person and cutting into his body brings inherent risks that cannot be ignored, and most people will be mildly anxious about that. People who have an anxiety disorder, though, may be excessively nervous—especially if they suffer from health anxiety. Fortunately, there are specific medications that are generally used to alleviate anxiety before surgery.


Major surgery is understandably anxiety-provoking for anyone who is aware of the risks and possibilities for a less-than-favorable outcome. When a person who has panic attacks or some other form of anxiety disorder—such as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) or health anxiety—must have surgery, the risks and possibilities can feel much more like certainties. In order to calm the patient's fears, specific anti-anxiety medications can be given to him, both before and after surgery, so that he will feel calmer and less worried while still being awake and aware as he enters the operating room and as he recovers.


While there are more than 20 medications commonly used to treat anxiety disorders, only a few of them are used specifically in surgical applications. One of these is Vistaril, which is specifically used both before and after surgery to help a patient feel calmer and also to help some narcotic pain relievers be more effective. Another pre-surgery medication for anxiety is Valium, which has been used for many years as a sedative before surgery and other medical procedures. Librium is also used before surgery because it provides a calming effect to the patient by affecting brain chemistry.

Time Frame

The anxiety medications that are used for surgery can be—and have been—used at other times, as well. They are simply the most appropriate medications for anxious patients who need to calm down and who are about to be sedated for their operation. These medications are given shortly before surgery (within an hour or two) because they don't remain in the body for long, and they are generally not effective if they are given too far in advance.


Some people don't want to take any medication for their pre-surgery anxiety because they are afraid of the medication as well as the surgery. Others have had a poor experience with an anti-anxiety medication in the past and are reluctant to try another one. While these fears are real and they make sense, the patient must understand that all anti-anxiety drugs are not the same. Having a reaction to one doesn't mean that there will be a problem with a different one. Also, a patient should be aware of the fact that, should a reaction or complication arise with the pre-surgery anxiety medication, the hospital is the absolute safest place to be.


Anyone who has had a severe reaction to any kind of medication should talk to his doctor before surgery. Most anti-anxiety medications are safe for most people, especially when they're offered on a one-time-use basis. However, allergies and reactions can still occur, even in otherwise healthy people with no obvious medical problems. Even a very anxious person does not have to agree to take an anti-anxiety medication before surgery if he doesn't want to.

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