In-Depth: Medical Tests Before Surgery

When You Do, and Don't, Need Pre-Op Tests

Doctors often order medical tests for patients before surgery. These are called pre-operative or “pre-op” tests. They include chest X-rays, blood and urine samples, and heart and lung tests.

These tests can be helpful if you are having serious surgery. But often, pre-op tests are not necessary. It is not a good idea to get them just because you’re having surgery. In these cases, pre-op tests usually don’t help. And they can even cause harm, or delay your surgery.

Contents of This Section

When and How to Question a Pre-Op Test
Discuss These Specific Pre-Op Tests With Your Doctor
Share This Video About Chest X-rays

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When and How to Question a Pre-Op Test

You may need pre-op tests for some kinds of surgery, or if you have certain health problems. Talk with your doctor about the pre-op tests that are right for you. If your doctor or the hospital’s medical team can’t give you a clear reason for a test, discuss your concerns with them.

 

Medical Tests Before Surgery  This brochure, from the Choosing Wisely series, is a guide to half a dozen pre-op tests that often are unnecessary. 

5 Questions to Ask About Medical Tests Before You Have Surgery No matter what pre-op test your doctor suggests, use these questions, use these questions to open a conversation with your doctor about the need for these tests, and whether the results will affect your care.

Discuss These Specific Pre-Op Tests With Your Doctor

Medical specialists, as part of the nationwide Choosing Wisely campaign, have identified many pre-operative tests that are overused. You should discuss these with your doctor to make sure they are useful in your care. Here are guides we created to help you have those conversations.

 

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Chest X-rays Before Surgery  If you don’t have signs or symptoms of heart or lung disease, think twice about having a pre-operative X-ray.

Echocardiogram Before Surgery  If you’re having surgery, you may wonder if you need an echocardiogram first.

Heart Imaging Before Surgery  If you’re having surgery, you may wonder if you need a heart imaging test first to make sure it is safe.

Heart Stress Tests Before Chest Surgery  Stress tests usually aren’t helpful if you don’t have heart problems.

Heart Tests Before Surgery  If you don't have heart problems, you probably don't need a heart test before an operation.

Lab Tests Before Surgery  Most healthy people don't need blood or urine tests done before surgery, especially low-risk surgery. 

Medical Tests Before Eye Surgery  Most people don't need to have their blood tested or their heart checked before they have eye surgery. 

Stress Tests Before Surgery  If you’re having surgery, you will probably not need a heart stress test beforehand if you are healthy, active, and feeling well, or if you’re having minor surgery.

Tests Before Heart Surgery  Before heart surgery, you probably don't need a breathing test or carotid ultrasound test, unless you have breathing problems or symptoms.

Share This Video About Chest X-rays

If you’re scheduled for surgery, a pre-operative chest X-ray can sometimes help make it safer by identifying medical problems that might make it a good idea to delay or even cancel the procedure. But if you don’t have signs or symptoms of heart or lung disease, you should think twice about having the X-ray. 

Here's how (and when) to ask your doctor about X-rays.