Appendectomy: What to Expect at Home

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Your Recovery

Appendicitis and location of appendix

Your doctor removed your appendix either by making many small cuts, called incisions, in your belly (laparoscopic surgery) or through open surgery. In open surgery, the doctor makes one large incision. The incisions leave scars that usually fade over time.

After your surgery, it is normal to feel weak and tired for several days after you return home. Your belly may be swollen and may be painful. If you had laparoscopic surgery, you may have pain in your shoulder for about 24 hours.

You may also feel sick to your stomach and have diarrhea, constipation, gas, or a headache. This usually goes away in a few days.

Your recovery time depends on the type of surgery you had. If you had laparoscopic surgery, you will probably be able to return to work or a normal routine 1 to 3 weeks after surgery. If you had an open surgery, it may take 2 to 4 weeks. If your appendix ruptured, you may have a drain in your incision.

Your body will work fine without an appendix. You will not have to make any changes in your diet or lifestyle.

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

  • Rest when you feel tired. Getting enough sleep will help you recover.
  • Try to walk each day. Start by walking a little more than you did the day before. Bit by bit, increase the amount you walk. Walking boosts blood flow and helps prevent pneumonia and constipation.
  • For about 2 weeks, avoid lifting anything that would make you strain. This may include a child, heavy grocery bags and milk containers, a heavy briefcase or backpack, cat litter or dog food bags, or a vacuum cleaner.
  • Avoid strenuous activities, such as bicycle riding, jogging, weight lifting, or aerobic exercise, until your doctor says it is okay.
  • You may be able to take showers (unless you have a drain near your incision) 24 to 48 hours after surgery. Pat the incision dry. Do not take a bath for the first 2 weeks, or until your doctor tells you it is okay. If you have a drain near your incision, follow your doctor's instructions.
  • You may drive when you are no longer taking pain medicine and can quickly move your foot from the gas pedal to the brake. You must also be able to sit comfortably for a long period of time, even if you do not plan on going far. You might get caught in traffic.
  • You will probably be able to go back to work in 1 to 3 weeks. If you had an open surgery, it may take 3 to 4 weeks.
  • Your doctor will tell you when you can have sex again.

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.
  • Drink plenty of fluids (unless your doctor tells you not to).
  • You may notice that your bowel movements are not regular right after your surgery. This is common. Try to avoid constipation and straining with bowel movements. You may want to take a fibre supplement every day. If you have not had a bowel movement after a couple of days, ask your doctor about taking a mild laxative.

Medicines

  • 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.
  • 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 and when to start taking those medicines again. Make sure that you understand exactly what your doctor wants you to do.
  • If your appendix ruptured, you will need to take antibiotics. Take them as directed. Do not stop taking them just because you feel better. You need to take the full course of antibiotics.
  • Take pain medicines exactly as directed.
    • If the doctor gave you a prescription medicine for pain, take it as prescribed.
    • If you are not taking a prescription pain medicine, take an over-the-counter medicine such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve). Read and follow all instructions on the label.
    • Do not take two or more pain medicines at the same time unless the doctor told you to. Many pain medicines have acetaminophen, which is Tylenol. Too much Tylenol can be harmful.
  • If you think your pain medicine is making you sick to your stomach:
    • Take your medicine after meals (unless your doctor has told you not to).
    • Ask your doctor for a different pain medicine.

Incision care

  • If you had an open surgery, you may have staples in your incision. The doctor will take these out in 7 to 10 days.
  • If you have strips of tape on the incision, leave the tape on for a week or until it falls off.
  • You may wash the area with warm, soapy water 24 to 48 hours after your surgery, unless your doctor tells you not to. Pat the area dry.
  • Keep the area clean and dry. You may cover it with a gauze bandage if it weeps or rubs against clothing. Change the bandage every day.
  • If your appendix ruptured, you may have an incision with packing in it. Change the packing as often as your doctor tells you to.
    • Packing changes may hurt at first. Taking pain medicine about half an hour before you change the dressing can help.
    • If your dressing sticks to your wound, try soaking it with warm water for about 10 minutes before you remove it. You can do this in the shower or by placing a wet face cloth over the dressing.
    • Remove the old packing and flush the incision with water. Gently pat the top area dry.
    • The size of the incision determines how much gauze you need to put inside. Fold the gauze over once, but do not wad it up so that it hurts. Put it in the wound carefully. You want to keep the sides of the wound from touching. A cotton swab may help you push the gauze in as needed.
    • Put a gauze pad over the wound, and tape it down.
    • You may notice greenish grey fluid seeping from your wound as you start to heal. This is normal. It is a sign that your wound is healing.

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 sudden chest pain and shortness of breath, or you cough up blood.
  • You have severe trouble breathing.

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

  • You are sick to your stomach and cannot drink fluids.
  • You have severe diarrhea.
  • You have pain that does not get better when you take your pain medicine.
  • You have signs of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
    • Red streaks leading from the wound.
    • Pus draining from the wound.
    • A fever.
  • You have loose stitches, or your incision comes open.
  • Bright red blood has soaked through a large bandage.
  • You have signs of a blood clot, such as:
    • Pain in your calf, back of knee, thigh, or groin.
    • Redness and swelling in your leg or groin.

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

  • You had a laparoscopic surgery and your shoulder pain lasts more than 24 hours.
  • You have leakage around your drain or you have no new fluid in the drain for 24 hours.
  • The amount of drainage suddenly increases, or the colour and texture changes.
  • You do not have a bowel movement after taking a laxative.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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