After Bowel Surgery: Recovering in the Hospital and at Home

Healthcare provider helping man out of hospital bed.You may be in the hospital overnight or longer. Once you are out of the hospital, recovery may take up to several months. It depends on the type of surgery you had.

Right after surgery

After surgery, you’ll be taken to the recovery room. Here your blood pressure, pulse, and breathing will be checked. You’ll also be given pain medicine as needed. When you’re ready, you’ll be moved to a regular hospital room.

Your recovery in the hospital

  • Soon after surgery you’ll be urged to get up and take short walks. This helps you heal faster. Gentle movement can help your digestive function. Walking also helps your heart and lungs, and can keep clots from forming in your legs.

  • You may be able to have some liquids in the first day or two. If it seems unlikely that your bowel will recover quickly, you may get nutrition through an IV (intravenous) tube. You may first be given a tube that passes through your nose to your stomach (a nasogastric tube). This keeps your stomach empty. This can help your digestive tract heal.

  • If you have a colostomy or ileostomy, you may also meet with an ostomy nurse. He or she will teach you how to care for yourself as you heal.

  • You will be shown how to do breathing exercises using a special device (incentive spirometer). This can prevent complications such as pneumonia.

  • You may have a tube (catheter) in your bladder to drain urine. This may be in place for the first day after surgery. In some cases it may be in place longer.

Getting back to normal at home

Depending on your surgery, even mild activity can make you tired in the first few weeks or months. After a few months, you may be feeling back to normal.

  • Stay active. But avoid hard exercise and heavy lifting in the first few months.

  • You can walk, climb stairs, shower, and bathe soon after surgery. But don’t drive until your provider says you can.

  • Follow all special diet instructions you are given.

  • Take care of your cut (incision) and any drains, as directed by your provider.

When to call your provider

Call your healthcare provider right away if you have any of the following:

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38°C)

  • Upset stomach (nausea) or vomiting

  • Increased belly pain

  • Constipation, diarrhea, or bloating

  • Increased redness, swelling, drainage, or pain near the incision

  • Trouble controlling bowel movements 

  • Bloody stool or black, tarry stool

  • Vomiting blood

  • Not able to urinate