Open Bowel Resection: What to Expect at Home

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Your Recovery

Regions of the colon

You are likely to have pain that comes and goes for the next few days after bowel surgery. You may have bowel cramps, and your cut (incision) may hurt. You may also feel like you have the flu. You may have a low fever and feel tired and nauseated. This is common. You should feel better after a week and will probably be back to normal in 2 to 3 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 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 strenuous activities, such as biking, jogging, weight lifting, or aerobic exercise, until your doctor says it is okay.
  • Ask your doctor when you can drive again.
  • You will probably need to take 3 to 4 weeks off from work. It depends on the type of work you do and how you feel. You may need to take off 4 to 6 weeks if you lift heavy objects in your job.
  • You may shower 24 to 48 hours after surgery, if your doctor says it is okay. Pat the cut (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 it is okay for you to have sex.

Diet

  • You may not have much appetite after the surgery. But try to eat a healthy diet. Your doctor will tell you about any foods you should not eat.
  • Eat a low-fibre diet for several weeks after surgery. Eat many small meals throughout the day. Add high-fibre foods a little at a time.
  • Eat yogurt. It puts good bacteria into your colon and helps prevent diarrhea.
  • Try to avoid nuts, seeds, and corn for a while. They may be hard to digest.
  • You may need to take vitamins that contain sodium and potassium. Ask your doctor.
  • Drink plenty of fluids to avoid becoming dehydrated.

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.
    • 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 acetaminophen (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 tells 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.
  • You may need to take some medicines in a different form. You will be told whether to crush pills or take a liquid form of the medicine.
  • If your doctor gives you a stool softener, take it as directed.

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.

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 pain in your belly.

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

  • You are sick to your stomach and cannot drink fluids or keep them down.
  • 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 a lot of diarrhea that smells very bad.
  • You have trouble passing urine or stool, especially if you have mild pain or swelling in your lower belly.
  • You have signs of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
    • Red streaks leading from the incision.
    • Pus draining from the incision.
    • A fever.
  • 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 or have new drainage from the incision.

Watch closely for any 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.
  • You do not get better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

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

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