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Bowel Preparation: Before Your Surgery

What is bowel preparation?

Bowel preparation (or bowel prep) is a way to make sure your bowels are empty before you have surgery. It's done to lower your risk of infection. It is very important if you have bowel surgery. But people also do it before other surgery in the belly or before a colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy.

There are different types of bowel prep. You may need to drink a liquid that makes you have to use the toilet a lot. Or you may give yourself an enema. Your doctor will tell you what kind of prep you need.

Bowel prep can be uncomfortable. You may spend a lot of time in the bathroom. Some people see results in 2 hours. For others, it takes up to 12 hours. It depends on the type of bowel prep you do.

How do you prepare for surgery?

Surgery can be stressful. This information will help you understand what you can expect. And it will help you safely prepare for surgery.

Preparing for surgery

  • Be sure you have someone to take you home. Anesthesia and pain medicine will make it unsafe for you to drive or get home on your own.
  • Understand exactly what surgery is planned, along with the risks, benefits, and other options.
  • If you take a medicine that prevents blood clots, your doctor may tell you to stop taking it before your surgery. Or your doctor may tell you to keep taking it. (These medicines include aspirin and other blood thinners.) Make sure that you understand exactly what your doctor wants you to do.
  • Tell your doctor ALL the medicines and natural health products you take. Some may increase the risk of problems during your surgery. Your doctor will tell you if you should stop taking any of them before the surgery and how soon to do it.
  • Make sure your doctor and the hospital have a copy of your advance care plan. If you don't have one, you may want to prepare one. It lets others know your health care wishes. It's a good thing to have before any type of surgery or procedure.

Before the surgery

  • Follow your doctor's instructions on when to stop eating or drinking before surgery.
  • If you are given a liquid bowel prep, take it as your doctor tells you. Some people think it tastes bad. So you may want to have lemon drops or other hard candies to suck on after you drink it. The liquid will make you have diarrhea. Your bowel is empty when the fluid that comes out of you is clear.
  • If you are told to give yourself an enema, follow the directions on the package. The enema solution is in a plastic bottle with a long, narrow tip. You put the tip of the bottle into your anus. Then you squeeze the liquid into your rectum. You hold the liquid for a few minutes. Then you use the toilet.
  • In some cases, you may be given antibiotics. These medicines lower the chance of infection. Take your medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor if you think you are having a problem with your medicine.

What happens on the day of surgery?

  • Follow the instructions exactly about when to stop eating and drinking. If you don't, your surgery may be cancelled. If your doctor told you to take your medicines on the day of surgery, take them with only a sip of water.
  • Your doctor may have you use an enema before the surgery.

When should you call your doctor?

  • You have questions or concerns.
  • You don't understand how to prepare for your surgery.
  • You become ill before the surgery (such as fever, flu, or a cold).
  • You need to reschedule or have changed your mind about having the surgery.

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