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Recovery After Crohn’s Surgery: What to Expect

Medically Reviewed by Neha Pathak, MD on October 13, 2020

Following Crohn’s surgery, you will likely be able to recover well and enjoy an active lifestyle. Here’s what you can expect in the days and weeks after the operation.

Your Hospital Stay

After the surgery, you will remain at the hospital for about 3 to 7 days. Planned surgeries tend to involve shorter hospital stays than emergency situations. The size of your intestine taken out and any unexpected issues could affect how long before you’re released.

Doctors may give you liquid nutrition through an IV if a large part was removed. After a couple of days, you should be able to drink clear liquids, followed by eating soft foods. If you’ve been given an ostomy pouch, a nurse or other expert will use this time to make sure you understand how to keep it clean.

Returning Home

You will probably feel tired after you come home. For a few weeks, you should move around with caution. Quick movements may cause pain. When you need to cough or sneeze, pressing a pillow onto the spot of your surgical incision can help to lower your level of discomfort. Your doctors may suggest acetaminophen or ibuprofen for pain relief (make sure you follow the dosing instructions on the label, so you don’t accidentally take too much.) They will also schedule a follow-up appointment soon after surgery. The purpose is to check how you’re improving and give you medicine that can help to manage your Crohn’s.

At first, you may have as many as 12 bowel movements in one day. For most people, stools soon become thicker and, within a few months, much less frequent. If you have an ostomy pouch, the number of bowel movements will go down to five or six as the pouch stretches over the course of about a year.

Avoid lifting heavy objects and operating heavy machinery, such as driving, before your incision has healed. Doctors typically suggest short walks to begin with, but be careful not to push yourself. Your health care team will probably tell you to raise your activity level slowly to support getting better faster.

When to Call Your Doctor

You should contact your doctor if you have a high fever that doesn’t go away; swelling in your belly; nausea, redness, or swelling around your incision; shortness of breath; or chest pain. Also call your doctor if you have:

  • No bowel movements for 4 days after release from the hospital
  • No bowel movements after they had resumed
  • Stools that are black, tarry, or bloody
  • An ileostomy that hasn’t worked for over a day
  • Swelling or pain in your legs

Your Diet

You’ll want to speak with your doctor about the right diet to help you heal from the surgery. Some things will depend on your specific surgery outcome, but it’s generally important to avoid large meals. Instead, you want to eat smaller servings throughout the day. You should also be careful about trying new foods. Start with small amounts to see how they affect you. Chew thoroughly, and stay away from foods that cause constipation or loose stools.

It’s advisable to eat enough protein as your body recovers. Your doctor can tell you how much to aim for and may also tell you to limit foods that are high in fiber while your body adjusts after the surgery. For a balanced diet, you may need to start taking dietary supplements. To ensure you don’t get dehydrated, try for six to eight glasses of water per day in between the small meals.

When to Expect Full Recovery

Depending on the type of work you do, getting back to your job could take 4 to 12 weeks. A general rule of thumb is that you’re ready to resume work -- perhaps part-time at first -- when you can keep busy with light physical activities around the house for a day without having fatigue the next morning.

If your surgery included an ostomy pouch, it’s not unusual to feel some concerns at first about your body image. If that's true for you, keep in mind that others cannot see the bag when it’s under your clothes. If you develop depression or anxiety after the surgery, it’s often helpful to speak with your doctor or a mental health professional, even for a few sessions. A support group may also be a good resource.

For the best long-term results, your doctors will continue following up with you after you get back to normal routines. Many people who have had Crohn’s surgery take part in the same activities, travel, and jobs that they enjoyed before surgery.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation: “Surgery for Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis,” “Proctocolectomy and Colectomy.”

University of California San Francisco: “Crohn’s Disease.”

Mount Sinai: “Small bowel resection.”

Crohn’s & Colitis UK: “Surgery for Crohn’s Disease.”

Mayo Clinic: “Adapting to life after colostomy, ileostomy or urostomy.”

American Society of Colon & Rectal Surgeons: “Crohn’s Disease.”

Cleveland Clinic: “J-Pouch Surgery: Recovery and Outlook.”

Johns Hopkins Medicine: “Colostomy.”

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