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After surgery: Can ginger help prevent nausea and vomiting after an operation?

Created: ; Last Update: April 18, 2012.

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Low-dose ginger products before surgery cannot prevent nausea and vomiting afterwards. Doses of at least 1 gram might be able to help some people, but there is not enough evidence to support this. Ginger is not likely to cause major side effects.

Nausea and vomiting are common after surgery, and this can sometimes make it more difficult to deal with pain. The rate of what is called post-operative nausea and vomiting (PONV) depends on the type of surgery, the anesthetic, and other factors. Nausea or vomiting can also be adverse effects of opioids (opium-based drugs). Opioids like morphine are used to relieve pain after surgery. One estimate is that an average of more than 30 percent of people are affected by nausea and vomiting after surgery, although, for about half of them, it does not continue for long. For some types of long operations, including gynecological surgery, the rate of nausea and vomiting can be higher, however.

Some people are at a higher risk of feeling nauseous, for example people who are very overweight. When it is particularly severe, nausea and vomiting can complicate and delay recovery after surgery, or stop people from using enough pain medication. Drugs that prevent nausea or vomiting are called antiemetics. Although several types of these drugs are used before and after surgery, there is no “ideal” drug that can prevent nausea after an operation. This is why different alternatives are often tried, including complementary therapies like acupuncture or herbal medicines.

One option is to use a ginger product (called zingiberis officinale in Latin). Ginger is used for nausea and vomiting in traditional Asian medicine. There is some evidence that it helps to reduce morning sickness during pregnancy. You can read more about this in the research summary “Nausea in pregnancy: What might help to reduce the symptoms of ‘morning sickness’?”. It is not known exactly why ginger is probably able to reduce nausea and vomiting. Ginger products do not appear to cause major side effects, although they can cause heartburn (indigestion).

The nausea and vomiting after surgery can be more severe than other types of nausea. This means that even if ginger works for one of these other kinds of nausea, like mild morning sickness, we cannot automatically assume that ginger would also help against severe nausea after an operation. To determine whether research has proven ginger to be effective for this problem, researchers from Thailand looked for trials that used at least 1 gram of ginger before surgery to try to prevent nausea and vomiting. They found five trials that looked at this, including just over 350 participants.

Ginger was shown to be able to prevent at least some post-operative nausea and vomiting, but the researchers pointed out that most of the people in these trials were from Asia, and that they had an average body weight of 50 kg. This is less than the average weight of people from European and American countries. That could mean that a dose of only 1 gram of ginger is not enough to be effective in heavier people. The higher doses used in other trials were 2 grams or more. Researchers in Germany also looked at trials where the dose was lower than 1 gram, and concluded that these ginger supplements cannot prevent post-operative nausea and vomiting. They also doubt that higher doses can really help. This means that there are still many open questions about ginger as a preventive treatment for nausea after surgery.

We will update this information when more research results become available. In the meantime, if people do want to take ginger as a way to try to prevent postoperative nausea, they should not expect a benefit from a dose of less than 1 gram.

References

  • Chaiyakunapruk N, Kitikannakorn N, Nathisuwan S, Leeprakobboon K, Leelasettagool C. The efficacy of ginger for the prevention of postoperative nausea and vomiting: a meta-analysis. Am J Obstet Gynecol 2006; 194: 95-99. [PubMed: 16389016]
  • Chrubasik S, Pittler MH, Roufogalis BD. Zingiberis rhizoma: a comprehensive review on the ginger effect and efficacy profiles. Phytomedicine 2005; 12: 684-701. [PubMed: 16194058]
  • Morin AM, Betz O, Kranke P, Geldner G, Wulf H, Eberhardt LHL. Ist Ingwer ein sinnvolles Antiemetikum für die postoperative Phase? Eine Metaanalyse randomisierter kontrollierter Studien. [Is ginger a relevant antiemetic for postoperative nausea and vomiting? A meta-analysis of randomised controlled studies.] Anästhesiol Intensivmed Notfallmed Schmerzther 2004; 39: 281-285. [PubMed: 15156419]
  • Tramer MR. Treatment of postoperative nausea and vomiting. BMJ 2003; 327: 762-763. [Full text] [PMC free article: PMC214055] [PubMed: 14525850]
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