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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 make sure that you don't have any problems from 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 go to the washroom 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 washroom. 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.

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.

What happens before surgery?

Preparing for surgery

  • Understand exactly what surgery is planned, along with the risks, benefits, and other options.
  • Tell your doctors ALL the medicines and natural health products you take. Some of these can increase the risk of bleeding or interact with anesthesia.
  • If you take blood thinners, such as warfarin (Coumadin), clopidogrel (Plavix), or aspirin, be sure to talk to your doctor. He or she will tell you if you should stop taking these medicines before your surgery. Make sure that you understand exactly what your doctor wants you to do.
  • Your doctor will tell you which medicines to take or stop before your surgery. You may need to stop taking certain medicines a week or more before surgery. So talk to your doctor as soon as you can.
  • If you have an advance care plan, let your doctor know. Bring a copy to the hospital. If you don't have one, you may want to prepare one. It lets your doctor and loved ones know your health care wishes. Doctors advise that everyone prepare these papers before any type of surgery or procedure.

Before the surgery

  • Do not eat or drink anything after midnight on the day of your 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.

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

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.
  • Take a bath or shower before you come in for your surgery. Do not apply lotions, perfumes, deodorants, or nail polish.
  • Take off all jewellery and piercings. And take out contact lenses, if you wear them.

When should you call your doctor?

  • You have questions or concerns.
  • You don't understand how to prepare for your surgery.
  • You are having trouble with the bowel prep.
  • 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.

Where can you learn more?

Go to

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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.