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Blood test helps predict how quickly you'll recover from surgery; New Study Reveals

Various types of surgeries have become increasingly common. Despite the new prevalence of these surgeries, the rate of fast recoveries has not increased. Why is that? And why is surgery becoming so common?

CBS news reports on why some people have fast recoveries and others do not.

One of the most vexing parts of having surgery is not knowing how your recovery rate will be – fast or slow? Some people have lasting pain and nausea afterwards. Is there a way to predict how your body will handle the surgery?

Some researchers have found that there possibly is a way to predict this.

“Now Stanford University researchers have discovered that right after surgery, patients' blood harbors clues about how fast they'll bounce back -- and it has to do with the activity of certain immune cells that play a key role in healing. The work may lead to a test to predict who'll need more care, or maybe even if an operation is the best choice,” according to CBS.

American doctors perform millions of surgeries every year. A large number of them are minor but many are still much more complicated. The speed of one’s recovery depends in part on the type of surgery and how sick the person has become. A number of hospitals have begun implementing enhanced recovery strategies, which are particular steps to take right before and after specific major operations. The objective here is to at least speed up the patient's discharge from the hospital, if not their overall recovery time.

However, scientists do not know what part of biology explains why some people recover so much faster than someone else who has had the same surgery. This information could help experts develop plans of those enhanced-recovery programs.

CBS reports on how other experts feel about the study, “Dr. Thacker has helped implement an enhanced-recovery program at Duke that she said works well, but said she can't explain which steps are most important or why without research into how they affect such things as the body's inflammatory response. She said, ‘I'm very excited that the science around surgery recovery is going that direction’.” Dr. Thacker is a colorectal surgeon at Duke University; she was not involved in the new study but applauded the report.

How was the study conducted?

The research team at Stanford took a close look at thirty-two people who were otherwise fairly healthy. This group underwent a first-time hip replacement. “They took blood samples from the patients before surgery and at several points afterward, and questioned them pain, fatigue and other elements of recovery every few days for six weeks,” according to CBS.

How were the patients’ respective recoveries?

The subjects’ recoveries were extremely varied. Some people experienced only mild pain just two days after surgery. But others did not report that their pain was mostly gone until a whopping thirty-six days later. The average time to recuperate from post-surgical weakness, extreme tiredness after simple activity, was three weeks. This means that fifty percent of patients were better but half took longer to recover.

Why were the results so varied?

The Stanford researchers worked to figure out the answer to this question.

“The researchers looked to immune cells that are behind the inflammation that always occurs with a wound. To find and map the activity of key players, they turned to the lab of Stanford immunology professor Garry Nolan, who helped develop a technology that measures dozens of features of individual immune cells simultaneously,” according to CBS.

What did the researchers discover?

They found that many patients' blood displays an immune signature of recovery that accounts for much of their variability in recovery time. This is a pattern of activity in particular immune cells that are first responders to the injury site. The report was published on Wednesday in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

The researchers were quite surprised by the results. Dr. Angst, who co-authored the study said, “If that particular reaction is controlled in the first 24 hours after surgery, patients recover faster. But when that reaction increases instead, patients recover more slowly. We were surprised, that such an early reaction set the stage for recovery. But it makes sense. Inflammatory processes initiate healing but you have to keep them on a leash and dwindle down efforts, because too much inflammation harms.” This explains much of the variance in recovery times.

Experts are urging people to try to look into these factors before getting surgery, especially in cases where surgery is optional.

CBS also reported on medical clinics conducting surgeries that are superfluous. In those cases they say patients should completely opt out of getting the surgery regardless of what their estimated recovery time would be as surgery is not in their best interest then. In order to avoid getting unnecessary surgeries, experts suggest that people get second and third opinions from a couple of different doctors before deciding on a surgery.