Gastrectomy: What to Expect at Home

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Your Recovery

You will have some belly pain and may need pain medicine for the first week or so after surgery. The cut that the doctor made (incision) may be tender and sore.

Because the surgery makes your stomach smaller, you will get full more quickly when you eat. Food also may empty into the small intestine too quickly. This is called dumping syndrome. It can cause diarrhea and make you feel faint, shaky, and nauseated. It also can make it hard for your body to get enough nutrition. If you think you are having problems with dumping syndrome, talk to your doctor.

It is important to avoid heavy lifting or strenuous exercise while you are recovering so that your belly can heal. You will probably be able to return to work or your normal routine in 4 to 6 weeks.

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 out 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.
  • Avoid lifting anything that would make you strain. This may include heavy grocery bags and milk containers, a heavy briefcase or backpack, cat litter or dog food bags, a vacuum cleaner, or a child.
  • Avoid strenuous activities, such as bicycle riding, jogging, weight lifting, or aerobic exercise, until your doctor says it is okay.
  • Do not take part in any activity where you could be hit in the belly. This could be sports or playing with children.
  • Hold a pillow over your incision when you cough or take deep breaths. This will support your belly and decrease your pain.
  • Do breathing exercises at home as instructed by your doctor. This will help prevent pneumonia.
  • You can shower. Pat the incision dry. Do not take a bath for the first 2 weeks, or until your doctor tells you it is okay.
  • Ask your doctor when you can drive again.
  • You will probably need to take 4 to 6 weeks off from work. It depends on the type of work you do and how you feel.
  • Ask your doctor when it is okay for you to have sex.

Diet

  • For the first week, stay on a liquid or soft diet. This includes broths, soups, milk shakes, puddings, and mashed potatoes. When you can eat these without difficulty, try other soft, solid foods, such as ground meat, shredded chicken, fish, pasta, and well-cooked vegetables and canned fruits.
  • Have 5 or 6 small meals each day instead of 2 or 3 large meals.
  • Chew each bite of food very well. Eat slowly. You may need to take 20 to 30 minutes to eat a meal.
  • Avoid crusty breads, bagels, tough meats, raw vegetables, nuts and seeds (including crackers and breads that have nuts and seeds), and other foods that are hard to digest.
  • If you feel full quickly, try to drink fluids between meals instead of with meals.
  • Avoid carbonated beverages, such as soda pop.
  • Avoid drinking with straws. This may help you swallow less air when you drink.
  • Gradually return to your normal foods. This usually takes 4 to 6 weeks.
  • Check with your doctor before drinking alcohol. Your body may absorb alcohol more quickly after surgery.
  • 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. 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.
  • 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, ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter medicine.
  • 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.
  • If your doctor prescribed antibiotics, take them as directed. Do not stop taking them just because you feel better. You need to take the full course of antibiotics.
  • Continue to take your acid-reducing medicine as your doctor tells you.

Incision care

  • If you have strips of tape on the incision, leave the tape on for a week or until it falls off.
  • Wash the area daily with warm, soapy water and pat it dry. Don't use hydrogen peroxide or alcohol, which can slow healing. You may cover the area with a gauze bandage if it weeps or rubs against clothing. Change the bandage every day.
  • Keep the area clean and dry.

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 sudden chest pain and shortness of breath, or you cough up blood.
  • You have severe pain in your belly or chest.

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

  • You are sick to your stomach or cannot keep fluids down.
  • You have pain that does not get better after you take 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.
    • Swollen lymph nodes in your neck, armpits, or groin.
    • A fever.
  • You have loose stitches, or your incision comes open.
  • You have signs of a blood clot, such as:
    • Pain in your calf, back of the knee, thigh, or groin.
    • Redness and swelling in your leg or groin.
  • You have trouble passing urine or stool, especially if you have pain or swelling in your lower belly.

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

  • You have trouble eating.
  • You lose weight.
  • You have symptoms of dumping syndrome, such as feeling faint, shaky, and nauseated or having diarrhea after you eat.
  • 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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