What to Expect After a Colectomy

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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Sometimes when doctors treat conditions like colon cancer, certain infections, or intestinal bowel disease like ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, they recommend a bowel resection. Also called a colectomy, this major surgery removes some or all of the large intestine. As you can imagine, this surgery can be life-saving, but it also considerably impacts patients’ lives, so it’s important to learn about the procedure and potential recovery.

The large intestine, which absorbs water and moves waste out of your body, is made up of three portions: the ascending, transverse and descending colon. During surgery, part or the entire colon is removed, either through minimally invasively laparoscopic surgery or traditionally open surgery with a larger incision. Often this procedure requires a hospital stay between 3 to 7 days, potentially longer if you had emergency surgery or you develop complications in the hospital.

Living With an Ostomy

Depending on the condition, the health of the intestine, and how much of the colon is saved, the two ends of intestine can be joined together. Other times, the entire colon may need to be removed and a temporary colostomy bag worn to collect waste while the colon heals. The colostomy bag is attached to over a surgically created opening (stoma) in the abdomen.

Although it may take some getting used to, living with an ostomy shouldn’t disrupt your life. You can participate without restriction in most activities you enjoy now. Whether your ostomy is permanent or temporary, you’re in good company—more than 500,000 people in the United States have an ostomy.

Some people report psychological and emotional problems after surgery and feel self-conscious about wearing a colostomy bag. However, although they are usually about the size of your hand, the bag is flat and usually isn’t detectable under clothes. There are ostomy support groups throughout the country that can offer advice and support to help you live your fullest life.

Risks and Complications of Colectomy

Potential risks and complications of bowel resection surgery include:

  • Reaction to general anesthesia
  • Post-operative skin infection at the incision
  • Intestinal leak

Although it can present challenges, bowel resection surgery allows many people to go on to live their normal lives, participating in favorite hobbies like swimming, biking, hiking, gardening or any other activity they enjoyed before surgery. In fact, people suffering with ulcerative colitis are cured by this procedure, and those with intestinal bowel disease often find they have more energy and ability to partake in social events because they are no longer tied to the bathroom or spending time in the hospital. Talk to your doctor about whether you may be a candidate for colectomy, and discuss the risks and benefits of this procedure for treating your symptoms.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Nov 29
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  1. Surgery for Crohn’s Disease & Ulcerative Colitis. Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America. http://www.ccfa.org/resources/surgery-for-crohns-uc.html?referrer=https://www.google.com/

  2. What is an Ostomy? United Ostomy Associations of America, Inc. http://www.ostomy.org/What_is_an_Ostomy.html

  3. Large bowel resection. U.S. National Library of Medicine. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002941.htm

  4. The Ostomy Files: Ostomy Statistics: The $64,000 Question. Ostomy Wound Management. http://www.o-wm.com/content/ostomy-statistics-the-64000-question