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Adrenalectomy: What to Expect at Home

Location of the adrenal glands, with detail of the gland's appearance

Your Recovery

Adrenalectomy is surgery to remove all or part of one or both adrenal glands. Adrenal glands are located above the kidneys. They make hormones that affect nearly every organ in the body. These hormones include adrenaline and cortisol.

The doctor took out one or both of your adrenal glands through a cut (incision) in the front, side, or back of your torso. Or the doctor may have made one or more smaller cuts. The incisions will leave scars that will fade with time.

The area will feel sore after the surgery. This usually lasts about 1 to 2 weeks. Your doctor will give you pain medicine.

Your body can work fine with one healthy adrenal gland. If both adrenal glands were removed or your remaining adrenal gland isn't healthy, you can take medicine every day to replace the hormones they were making.

This care sheet gives you a general idea about how long it will take for you to recover. But each person recovers at a different pace. Follow the steps below to get better as quickly as possible.

How can you care for yourself at home?

Activity

  • Allow the area to heal. Don't move quickly or lift anything heavy until you are feeling better.
  • Rest when you feel tired.
  • You can do your normal activities when it feels okay to do so.
  • Be active. Walking is a good choice.
  • You will probably need to take 2 to 4 weeks off from work. It depends on the type of work you do and how you feel.
  • Hold a pillow over your incisions when you cough or take deep breaths. This will support your belly and may help to decrease your pain.

Diet

  • You can eat your normal diet. If your stomach is upset, try bland, low-fat foods like plain rice, broiled chicken, toast, and yogurt.
  • If your bowel movements are not regular right after surgery, try to avoid constipation and straining. Drink plenty of water. Your doctor may suggest fibre, a stool softener, or a mild laxative.

Medicines

  • Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
    • If the doctor gave you a prescription medicine for pain, take it as prescribed.
    • If you are not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter medicine.
  • If you take aspirin or some other blood thinner, be sure to talk to your doctor. He or she will tell you if and when to start taking this medicine again. Make sure that you understand exactly what your doctor wants you to do.
  • Your doctor will tell you if and when you can restart your medicines. He or she will also give you instructions about taking any new medicines.

Incision care

  • You will have a dressing over the cut (incision). A dressing helps the incision heal and protects it. Your doctor will tell you how to take care of this.
  • If you have strips of tape on the incision, leave the tape on for a week or until it falls off.
  • If you had stitches, your doctor will tell you when to come back to have them removed.
  • Wash the area daily with warm water, and pat it dry. Don't use hydrogen peroxide or alcohol. They can slow healing.

Hygiene

  • You may shower 24 to 48 hours after surgery, if your doctor okays it. Pat the incision dry. Do not take a bath for the first 2 weeks, or until your doctor tells you it is okay.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You passed out (lost consciousness).
  • You have severe trouble breathing.
  • You have chest pain, are short of breath, or cough up blood.

Call your doctor or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have pain that does not get better after you take pain medicine.
  • You have loose stitches, or your incision comes open.
  • You are bleeding from the incision.
  • You have symptoms of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
    • Red streaks leading from the incision.
    • Pus draining from the incision.
    • A fever.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if:

  • You do not have a bowel movement after taking a laxative.

Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.