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Colorectal Surgery: Recovering in the Hospital and at Home

Patient walking in hospital hall with an IV pole and healthcare provider.
Your healthcare provider will help you take short walks soon after surgery.

You have had colorectal (bowel) surgery. When the surgery is done, you’ll be taken to the recovery room. This is also called the post-anesthesia care unit, or PACU. Here, you will be carefully watched. Your blood pressure, pulse, and breathing will be checked. You’ll also get pain medicine to keep you comfortable.

When you’re ready, you’ll be moved to a normal hospital room. You’ll then be watched closely to be sure you’re healing well. Your hospital stay may last from a few days to a week, or longer. Once home, follow instructions to help make sure you have a full recovery.

Right after surgery

If you have a urinary catheter, it will likely be taken out shortly after surgery. Your intravenous (IV) line will stay in place for a few days to give you fluids. And you’ll keep getting medicine for pain. Soon after surgery, you’ll be up and walking around. This helps improve blood flow and prevent blood clots. It also helps your bowels get back to normal. You’ll be given breathing exercises to keep your lungs clear.

If a stoma (ostomy) was made during surgery, your healthcare providers will show you how to care for it. You may also meet with an ostomy nurse. He or she will teach you about stoma care.

Eating again

You won’t eat or drink anything until your bowel starts working again. When this happens, you’ll start with a liquid diet. After that, you’ll be given solid foods, as directed by your healthcare provider.

Recovering at home

In most cases, you’ll visit your healthcare provider shortly after leaving the hospital. You can get back to your normal routine about a month or two after surgery. Full recovery may take 4 to 6 weeks or longer.

While your body heals, you may tire more easily. You also are likely to have some bloating. Loose stools and more frequent bowel movements are common, too. This may get better over time. But it may never fully go away. It will depend on the type of bowel surgery you had and specifics to your case.

Resuming everyday activities

Being active helps your body heal. But you must protect your healing incisions. Make sure you:

  • Walk as much as you feel up to.

  • Don't do any heavy lifting or vigorous exercise until your healthcare provider says it’s OK. Follow your healthcare provider’s advice about climbing stairs and bathing.

  • Don't drive right away. Wait until you’re no longer taking pain medicines and when you can readily press down on the brake pedal. 

When to call your healthcare provider

Call your healthcare provider if you have:

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or as directed by your healthcare provider

  • Chills 

  • Ongoing nausea or vomiting

  • Unusual redness, swelling, or pain around your incision

  • Trouble breathing

  • Leg swelling

  • Severe constipation or diarrhea

  • Pain in the belly or around the stoma that gets worse

Online Medical Reviewer: Jen Lehrer MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Kenny Turley PA-C
Online Medical Reviewer: L Renee Watson MSN RN
Date Last Reviewed: 6/1/2019
© 2000-2019 The StayWell Company, LLC. 800 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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