Liver Resection: What to Expect at Home

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Your Recovery

Liver resection is surgery to remove a piece of the liver. Up to one-half of your liver can be removed if the rest of it is healthy. The doctor made a cut, called an incision, in your belly to take out part of the liver. If the doctor removed the right side of your liver, he or she also removed your gallbladder.

Your belly will be sore after liver resection. This usually lasts about 1 to 2 weeks. You may also have nausea, diarrhea, constipation, gas, or a headache. You may have a low fever and feel tired and sick to your stomach. The skin around the incision the doctor made may be numb because nerves were cut. This is common and may get better with time. But it is likely that you will always have some numbness where the incision was made. You may need 4 to 8 weeks to fully recover.

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 bicycle riding, jogging, weight lifting, or aerobic exercise, until your doctor says it is okay.
  • For at least 8 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.
  • 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.
  • Ask your doctor when you can drive again.
  • You will probably need to take 4 to 8 weeks off from work. It depends on the type of work you do and how you feel.
  • You may be able to take showers (unless you have a drain near your incision). If you have a drain near your incision, follow your doctor's instructions to empty and care for it. 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 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).
  • Check with your doctor before drinking alcohol. Alcohol can damage the liver.
  • 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.
  • 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 that your doctor recommends. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
    • Do not take aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen (Aleve), or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) unless your doctor says it is okay.
  • 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 kind of 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.

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.

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 your pain medicine.
  • You have a fever, chills, or body aches.
  • You have loose stitches, or your incision comes open.
  • You are bleeding from the incision.
  • You have signs of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
    • Red streaks leading from the incision.
    • Pus draining from the incision.
    • Swollen lymph nodes in your neck, armpits, or groin.
    • A fever.
  • You have trouble passing urine or stool, especially if you have pain or swelling in your lower belly.
  • You have pale-coloured stools along with dark urine and itching.
  • Your stools are black and tar-like or have streaks of blood.

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.

Where can you learn more?

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

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