Supplements Worry Surgeons

Ginseng, Ginko, St. John’s Wort. Each year, Americans spend millions of dollars on herbal supplements to treat everything from depression to memory impairment. However, “all natural” doesn’t always mean it’s harmless, especially if you’re about to have surgery. Here’s why supplements and surgery can be a dangerous combination.

They beckon us from the store shelves, promising to improve our health, but herbal remedies can have the opposite effect in the operating room.

Just ask Bob. He was an hour from having routine knee surgery when a doctor asked him what pills he takes. “I was telling them I was taking my aspirins on a daily basis. I was taking my vitamin E, and I was taking St. John’s Wort,” he says. That was all it took for the doctor to cancel Bob’s surgery.

An anesthesiologist at Medical Center in St. Petersburg, Fla., says, “Their well-being could be at risk, just as the well-being’s at risk if you’re intoxicated or taking illicit street drugs or have a bad heart.”

Dr. says combining herbal supplements with surgical medication can be dangerous, especially St. John’s Wort. “You could suddenly be hypertensive. You could have a seizure. Your body temperature could rise up tremendously”.

Also on the hit list: memory enhancer ginkgo biloba, which can interfere with blood clotting. Vitality booster ginseng can cause high blood pressure and a rapid heartbeat during surgery.

Bob is off supplements until after his re-scheduled surgery and says he plans to learn more about the side effects before he takes them again.

The American Society of Anesthesiologists says the biggest problem is 70 percent of supplement users never tell their doctor. Anesthesiologists recommend patients stop taking supplements at least two to three weeks before surgery.

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