9 Tips to Prepare for Colectomy

  • Doctor making notes
    Preparing for a Colectomy
    If your doctor suggested you have a colectomy to help manage your symptoms or to remove a cancerous tumor, there are several things you can do before your surgery to help you have as smooth a recovery as possible. Unless it is an emergency surgery, you should have time to prepare both mentally and physically for this new stage of your life.
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    1. Ask if you will have a colostomy.
    A colostomy—an opening in your abdomen that drains stool—is often done after a colectomy. A temporary one will be reversed when your colon has healed. A permanent colostomy will remain. Ask if you will have one, and what type of help is available to manage it: Is there a colostomy nurse who will help you? Are there colostomy support groups you can join? Where will you get your supplies? Knowing these things ahead of time can help relieve some of the stress related to the upcoming surgery.
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    2. Find out the pre-surgery details.
    Before surgery, you will receive instructions regarding what medications you can continue taking and what you should stop and when. You’ll also be told how long before the colectomy you should fast. Unless the surgery is an emergency and must be done immediately, you will be asked to drink a solution at home and/or use enemas to help empty and clear out your colon prior to the procedure.
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    3. Learn about the supplies you may need.
    If you will have a colostomy, you will need to learn how to care for it, how to change the bags, and how to manage problems with the stoma (the opening connected to your lower digestive system). Ask your surgeon for information on colostomies and if you can meet the colostomy nurse or team beforehand. Ask the nurse or team what to expect and what supplies, if any, you should purchase ahead of time. If you can, bring a friend or relative with you to your pre-surgical appointment. They can help you if you forget anything later on or are confused about colostomy care.
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    4. Ask about the recovery period.
    Recovery time from a colectomy depends on several factors. Recovery after an open surgery can be longer than after a laparoscopic procedure. Your overall health (before the procedure) and how much colon is removed also play a role in recovery. Ask your surgeon about the typical recovery and any complications you might experience based on those factors. You also need to know how long you will have to take off work (if you are still working), how long until you can drive again, and how long before you can resume your usual activities, like exercising, traveling, playing with the kids, and more.
  • Female doctor helping female patient with walker
    5. Set up your home for ease of use.
    You’ll need care at home the first few days or longer. If you don’t have your own help, you may need to spend time in a rehabilitation center until you are strong enough to be home on your own. Your doctor or nurse will discuss this possibility with you. Even with help at home, prepare for after surgery by moving items you use often within easy reach. Your colon will need time to heal, so you’ll be on a special diet. You may be weak after surgery; consider getting a walker to help you move around safely at home until you get your strength back.
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    6. Discuss wound care.
    If you don’t have a colostomy, you will have an incision (opening) to care for once you return home. The incision will be closed with either sutures (stitches) or staples, but your surgeon usually removes these and replaces them with tiny bandages called steri-strips before you go home from the hospital. These should remain in place for several days, even a few weeks. You will need to learn how to keep the incision clean and dry, and how to change the bandage. Ask when you can take a shower again. Generally, baths are not permitted until the incision has healed.
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    7. Meet with a dietitian.
    If you’ve been living with a colon disease for a long time, you already know how food can affect your bowels. After a colectomy, your body needs to adjust to its new normal and there may be some more foods that you can’t eat while there may be others that you can now tolerate. If you meet with a dietitian, you can review what you like to eat, the healthiest foods that you might be able to tolerate, and the different ways to prepare the foods. Purchase these foods before surgery so you have them on hand afterwards.
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    8. Make a list of contact names and numbers.
    As prepared as you may be, you might forget to ask something or you might encounter a situation you had not planned for. Before your surgery, ask your surgeon or your team who you call if you develop any complications, like fever, increasing pain, or bleeding. Get the names and phone numbers, and back-up names and numbers if they are not available. Ask what symptom is considered an emergency and may require a trip to the emergency room rather than a phone call.
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    9. Check your insurance policy.
    There are few things more stressful than getting unexpected medical bills or finding out after the fact that you were entitled to something you didn’t know about. Find out what your insurance covers. Are you entitled to home care visits after you are discharged from the hospital? Are your colostomy bags and other ‘durable medical equipment’ (DME) necessities covered? Who can you talk to if you run into problems related to your insurance? What is their number? By knowing what your insurance covers and who to contact if there are issues, you will save yourself aggravation during your recovery. Create a one-page “cheatsheet” of all this information for yourself and your partner or caregiver. Having everything in one place will save you and others aggravation later on.
Colectomy Preparation | 9 Tips to Prepare for Colectomy

About The Author

Marijke Vroomen Durning, RN, has been writing health information for the past 20 years. She has extensive experience writing about health issues like sepsis, cancer, mental health issues, and women’s health. She is also author of the book Just the Right Dose: Your Smart Guide to Prescription Medications and How to Take Them Safely.
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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Jun 1
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.