Pituitary Surgery: What to Expect at Home

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Your Recovery

Pituitary surgery removes an abnormal growth on your pituitary gland. Your pituitary gland is at the base of your brain. It makes important chemicals called hormones. These hormones are involved in many of your body's functions, including growth, sex, and your metabolism (the way your body uses food for energy).

If you had surgery under your lip or through your nose, you may have a headache and a slight runny nose after surgery. This will get better in 1 to 2 weeks. Your doctor may recommend pain or decongestant medicines to help with these symptoms.

There are other less common symptoms after this type of surgery. You will feel tired, your front teeth or upper lip may feel numb, and you may gain weight. You may also have trouble breathing through your nose, you may have bruises under your eyes or on the side of your nose, and you may not be able to smell as well as usual.

If the doctor used a small piece of fat from your belly or thigh to plug up the hole in your nose, you will have a small scar on your belly or thigh that will fade over time.

You will probably be able to return to work or your normal routine in 1 to 2 weeks. If you had stitches, they will disappear on their own in 7 to 10 days.

If you had surgery through your skull, you will probably feel very tired for several weeks after surgery. You may also have headaches or problems concentrating. It can take up to 6 weeks to fully recover.

The cuts the doctor made (incisions) may be sore for about 5 days after surgery. You may also have numbness and shooting pains near your wound, or swelling and bruising around your eyes. As your wound starts to heal, it may begin to itch. Medicines and ice packs can help with headaches, pain, swelling, and itching.

It is common for your scalp to swell with fluid. After the swelling goes down, you may have a dent in your scalp.

This care sheet gives you a general idea about how long it will take for you to recover. But each person recovers at a different pace. Follow the steps below to get better as quickly as possible.

How can you care for yourself at home?

Activity

  • Ask your doctor when you can drive again.
  • Rest when you feel tired. It is normal to want to sleep during the day. It is a good idea to plan to take a nap every day. Getting enough sleep will help you recover.
  • Try to walk each day. Start by walking a little more than you did the day before. Bit by bit, increase the amount you walk. Walking boosts blood flow and helps prevent pneumonia and constipation.
  • For 1 to 2 weeks, avoid lifting anything that would make you strain. This may include a child, heavy grocery bags and milk containers, a heavy briefcase or backpack, cat litter or dog food bags, or a vacuum cleaner.
  • Avoid strenuous activities, such as bicycle riding, jogging, weightlifting, and aerobic exercise, for 1 to 2 weeks.
  • If you had surgery through your skull:
    • Try not to lie flat when you rest or sleep for the first 1 to 2 weeks after surgery. You can use a wedge pillow, or you can put a rolled towel or foam padding under your pillow. You can also raise the head of your bed by putting bricks or wooden blocks under the bed legs.
    • After lying down, bring your head up slowly. This can prevent headaches or dizziness.
    • You can wash your hair 2 to 3 days after your surgery. But do not soak your head or swim for 2 to 3 weeks.
    • Do not dye or colour your hair for 4 weeks after your surgery.
    • Ask your doctor if it is safe for you to travel by plane.
  • If you had surgery under your lip or through your nose:
    • Do not blow or pick your nose or cough hard for 4 weeks after surgery. Do not use any medicines that you need to inhale through your nose.
  • If you had surgery under your lip:
    • Do not brush your teeth for up to 2 weeks after your surgery. Your doctor will give you swabs to use instead of a toothbrush. You will also get a special mouthwash to rinse with after eating and drinking. The mouthwash helps your incision heal.
    • Do not wear dentures for 2 weeks after surgery.
  • You will probably need to take a few weeks off from work. This depends on the type of work you do and how you feel.

Diet

  • You can eat your normal diet. If your stomach is upset, try bland, low-fat foods like plain rice, broiled chicken, toast, and yogurt.
  • Follow your doctor's orders about how much fluid you should drink after surgery.
  • Ask your doctor when it is okay to drink alcohol.
  • You may notice that your bowel movements are not regular right after your surgery. This is common. Try to avoid constipation and straining with bowel movements. You may want to take a fibre supplement every day. If you have not had a bowel movement after a couple of days, ask your doctor about taking a mild laxative.

Medicines

  • Your doctor will tell you if and when you can restart your medicines. He or she will also give you instructions about taking any new medicines.
  • If you take blood thinners, such as warfarin (Coumadin), clopidogrel (Plavix), or aspirin, be sure to talk to your doctor. He or she will tell you if and when to start taking those medicines again. Make sure that you understand exactly what your doctor wants you to do.
  • Take any new medicines exactly as directed.
    • You may need to take hormone medicines.
    • Your doctor may recommend a decongestant medicine.
  • Take pain medicines exactly as directed.
    • If the doctor gave you a prescription medicine for pain, take it as prescribed.
    • If you are not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter medicine.
  • If you think your pain medicine is making you sick to your stomach:
    • Take your medicine with meals (unless your doctor has told you not to).
    • Ask your doctor for a different pain medicine.
  • If your doctor prescribed antibiotics, take them as directed. Do not stop taking them just because you feel better. You need to take the full course of antibiotics.

Incision care

  • If you have an incision on your belly, thigh, or head:
    • Leave the tape on for a week or until it falls off.
    • Keep the area clean and dry. Change the bandage every 2 days, or if it gets wet or soiled.
    • Do not take a bath or soak the incision in water for 2 weeks.
    • After your doctor says it is okay to shower or bathe, gently wash the surgery area with warm, soapy water and pat it dry.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You passed out (lost consciousness).
  • You have sudden chest pain and shortness of breath, or you cough up blood.
  • You have severe trouble breathing.
  • It is hard to think, move, speak, or see.
  • Your body is jerking or shaking.

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have trouble thinking clearly.
  • You have a fever with a stiff neck or a severe headache.
  • Your incision comes open, or you have pus or other fluid leaking from your incision.
  • You have any sudden vision changes.
  • You have new or worse headaches.
  • You fall and hit your head.
  • You are sleeping more than you are awake.
  • You have pain that does not get better after you take pain medicine.
  • You have a fever over 100°F.
  • You have a headache and you throw up.
  • You have a lot of watery fluid leaking from your nose (more than a slight runny nose).
  • You are urinating more than a pint of clear or light yellow urine every hour for at least 3 hours and you are more thirsty than usual.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if you have any problems.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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