Choosing Wisely
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Medical Tests Before Eye Surgery

When you need them—and when you don’t

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If you’re going to have cataract surgery or another eye surgery, you may be given some medical tests first. For example, you may have an electrocardiogram (EKG) to check your heart, or a complete blood count (CBC) to check for anemia, a low amount of red blood cells.

These tests may make surgery safer. For example, they may find medical problems that lead to a delay or change in your surgery. But most people don’t need these tests before eye surgery. Here’s why:

The tests usually aren’t helpful for low-risk surgery.

Generally, cataract and other eye surgeries have very low risks of complications or problems, such as heart attacks. There really isn’t anything doctors can do to lower the risk any further. Eye surgeries do not take long, and they use only a local anesthetic to numb the eye, often with a medicine to relax you.

Even so, many healthy people get a routine set of tests before eye surgery. In these cases, the tests don’t change the surgery or make it safer.

They can lead to more tests.

The tests themselves are very safe, but they can cause false alarms. This can lead to anxiety and more tests. And they can needlessly delay your sur­gery. For example, one test may be followed up with a repeat test, an ultrasound, a biopsy, or a test that exposes you to radiation, such as an X-ray or CT scan.

The costs can add up.

Your health plan may not pay for the tests if you do not have a specific medical need for them. If this happens, you may need to pay for them. It could cost between $25 and $50 per test, according to

So when are the tests needed?

You may need the tests if you have certain kinds of health conditions or illnesses. For example, you may need an EKG if you have heart disease or symptoms such as chest pain or shortness of breath. If you have diabetes, you will probably need a blood test to make sure it is under control.

Based on the test results, your doctor may need to change your surgery or anesthesia. You may need special care during or after the surgery. Or you may need to postpone the surgery until the problem is treated or controlled.


Advice from Consumer Reports

This report is for you to use when talking with your healthcare provider. It is not a substitute for medical advice and treatment.  Use of this report is at your own risk.

© 2013 Consumer Reports. Developed in cooperation with the American Academy of Ophthalmology. To learn more about the sources used in this report and terms and conditions of use, visit