Herbal medicines pose risk during surgery

July 24, 2001 in Vitamins, Minerals, Supplements

Herbal medicines pose risk during surgery

Taking herbal medications and having surgery may be a risky combination that can lead to excessive bleeding, heart instability or a reduction in blood sugar levels.

Physicians from the University of Chicago issued a report that warns of the risks herbal medications may pose to those about to have surgery. It is important that patients talk to their doctors about their use of herbal medications before surgery.

The researchers studied case reports and reviewed on the potential effects of eight of the most commonly used herbal medications: echinacea, ephedra (ma huang), garlic, ginkgo, ginseng, kava, St. John's wort, and valerian.

Direct effects include bleeding from garlic, ginkgo and ginseng; cardiovascular instability from ephedra; and hypoglycemia [low blood sugar] from ginseng. Additionally, the author's report that drug-herb interactions may result between anesthesia and valerian or kava. These herbs, often used as sleep aids, may potentially increase the sedative effects of anesthesia.

Some professional organizations such as the American Society of Anesthesiologists have suggested that patients stop taking herbal medications 2 to 3 weeks before surgery, but a patient may not see an anesthesiologist until just before the procedure. Therefore patients should discuss the subject with their doctor as far in advance of surgery as possible.

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