Colon surgeries range from minor screening procedures for colon cancer and other abnormalities (colonoscopies) to major surgical removal of parts of the colon (colectomy). Recovery time and methods depend on what type of colon surgery you undergo. For minor colon procedures, there is no recovery time unless complications occur. Major colon surgery requires extensive recovery that can last for several weeks and months after surgery.
The Days After Surgery
Immediately after major colon surgery, your bowels will not be able to function properly. Slowly your intestines will reactivate, but this process can take several days. Usually patients cannot eat solid foods for up to five days. Fluids and nutrition are provided intravenously. As the bowels heal, patients can drink clear fluids and eventually return to solid foods. Since pain is common after major surgery, pain killers are delivered through an IV drip or by a system that allows the patient to control the flow of medication.
For colon surgeries that require a colostomy or ileostomy (bags that attach to various parts of the digestive tract to hold waste if the colon is removed or cannot function properly), patients will learn how to use the equipment safely.
Surprisingly, some studies (such as one conducted by Sanjay Purkayastha at St. Mary's Hospital in London) have found that chewing gum in the days after surgery can help the intestines regain functioning and shorten overall hospital stays.
The Weeks After Surgery
Once your intestines return to normal functioning and you can eat solid foods, you will probably be released from the hospital, provided there are no further complications. In the weeks after surgery, you will want to rest and give your body time to recover. Rushing back to work is not recommended, as it can delay healing and increase scarring.
While recovering at home, abstain from any heavy lifting, which can lead to herniation. A physical therapist will give you basic exercises to build up strength so you can eventually lift things without risk of abdominal tearing. Adoption of a fiber-rich diet, full of fruits, vegetables and bran will help bowel function return to normal. Doctors may also prescribe fiber supplements and other laxatives to assist with the process. Likewise, anti-diarrhea medication may be needed to control a spastic colon.
Even after you are OK to return back to work or school, you must follow up with your doctor to ensure long-term recovery. Furthermore, depending on your condition, you may need to undergo additional treatments. For instance, with cases of advanced colon cancer, radiation treatment and chemotherapy may be necessary to prevent future re-occurrence. Patients with colostomy bags may need to follow up with their enterostomal therapists, especially if any complications occur. Some conditions, such as diverticulitis, only require temporary use of the colostomy bag, while serious cases of Crohn's Disease may require more permanent use of the bag.