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What's it like: To have part of your large bowel removed

Colon surgery patients should discuss recovery time and their needs with their doctor, experts say.
by Jaclyn Cosgrove Published: September 29, 2013

Why have the surgery?

The large bowel, also known as the large intestine or colon, connects the small intestine to the anus. Normally, stool passes through the large bowel before leaving the body through the anus.

There are a few common reasons someone might have part of their large bowel removed. For example, someone who has a neoplasm, an abnormal mass of tissue that's sometimes cancerous, might have this surgery.

People who suffer from an inflammatory disease, such as diverticulitis, might have the surgery. Diverticulitis creates small, bulging pouches of the inner lining of the intestine that become inflamed and are generally in the colon. If a person develops serious complications from diverticulitis, such as a fistula, he or she might need surgery to correct the issue.

Additionally, if you have a perforation, or a hole that develops through the whole wall of your colon, your doctor might recommend removing part of it.

People who suffer from Crohn's disease, which causes inflammation or swelling in the digestive tract, or colitis, swelling of the colon, also might have the procedure. However, surgery does not eliminate Crohn's. People with Crohn's disease commonly need more than one operation because inflammation tends to return to the area next to where the diseased intestine was removed.

What happens?

About two weeks before your surgery, your doctor will likely ask you to stop taking certain drugs. You will also be encouraged to eat high-fiber foods and drink plenty of water. A few days before surgery, you usually have to drink a laxative solution that helps clear out your colon. Your doctor also might recommend an enema.

To begin surgery, you will get anesthesia on the operating room table. You will usually have a breathing tube in your throat to help you breathe.

The way your surgery is performed will vary, depending on your surgeon and the technique that he or she uses. No one procedure is necessarily appropriate for all patients.

During an open surgery, your surgeon will make a cut in the middle of your abdomen that's about six or seven inches long. The medical team will place devices known as retractors inside of you to hold the abdominal wall open. Your surgeon will remove the diseased part of your colon. Most people have enough healthy large intestine to place the ends back together.

If you don't have enough healthy large intestine left, you will have a colostomy, a bag attached to the abdomen where the intestine drains. This isn't as common an approach as it used to be.

During a laparoscopic operation, your surgeon makes a few small cuts, rather than one large cut. The surgery itself is performed similarly, with a camera placed inside of you that helps your surgeon see where he or she needs to cut.

Does it hurt?

This is a major operation. However, the amount of pain you feel after surgery will depend on how extensive your surgery is. It will also vary person to person.

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by Jaclyn Cosgrove
Medical and Health Reporter
Jaclyn Cosgrove writes about health, public policy and medicine in Oklahoma, among other topics. She is an Oklahoma State University graduate. Jaclyn grew up in the southeast region of the state and enjoys writing about rural Oklahoma. She is...
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