Like every form of surgery, the colostomy reversal recovery time will vary from patient to patient but it can be a slow process that can take from a few weeks to a few months. Knowing what to expect, both while in the hospital and after you are discharged, can help a patient mentally prepare and ease some of the fear and worry associated with the surgical procedure. Several factors can influence recovery, such as an individual’s propensity to heal, their attitude, other present health conditions, age, whether colon resection is involved and the occurrence of any sort of complication or setback. The most important steps for a patient recovering from colostomy reversal surgery are to follow their surgeon’s and nurse’s instructions as closely as possible, inform their doctor or ostomy nurse of any potential problems that may arise, and trying to maintain a positive attitude during what may be a difficult time.
Soon after surgery the nurse will assist you in trying to get up and walk a little bit. It may seem like the last thing you would feel like doing post surgery but it is an extremely vital part of recovery. Walking helps promote blood flow throughout the body and increasing circulation to the limbs and key body systems. It aids in preventing blood clots and promotes better wound healing. It is important for the lungs and decreases the chances of developing pneumonia. It also is good for the gut and getting things moving along inside the bowel tract.
Type of Surgery
One factor that can influence recovery time is what type of reversal surgery is performed. If laparoscopic surgery (also referred to as “keyhole” surgery) is performed this can help reduce healing time. This type of operation uses 3 or 4 very small incisions and makes use of a laparoscope, a thin and flexible tube with a camera attached to the end. The area being operated on is viewed on a monitor by the surgeon. Since the incisions are small they are quicker to heal. This type of surgery is done when circumstances of the reversal are pretty straightforward and simple.
When laparascopic surgery is not an ideal course of action, such as when there are adhesions inside of the colon that need to be taken care of, a large incision is made and open surgery is performed. This type of surgery will add to the recovery time and may produce more pain and tenderness in the days following the reversal procedure as compared to laparoscopic surgery.
The site where the stoma used to be may be left opened or closed depending on the patient’s needs and circumstance. Instructions and care after surgery may be needed and performed by an ostomy nurse to ensure the site heals up properly.
Bowel movements should start a few days after the surgery is performed. The first few might contain some blood which is quite common. After bowel movements begin your diet may be altered to include some more solid food. The medical staff will want to make sure your “new plumbing” works before being discharged.
It may take quite awhile before your bowels readjust. Patients frequently have to endure multiple trips to the bathroom per day, perhaps 10 to 20. Diarrhea and/or constipation is quite common in the weeks or months following reversal surgery. Immodium or Loperamide, a stronger prescription equivalent, may be used to combat the diarrhea.
Accidents are prone to happen as well as the sphincter muscle may have grown weak from not being in use. Patients sometimes have to re-acclimate themselves to figuring out the difference between what may be gas exiting and what may be solid. Wearing some sort of pad or adult diaper during this period of readjustment may be advisable in case of such accidents.
A return to “normal” or close to “normal” may take some time. As usual, everybody responds differently, but for some it might take a few weeks while others may need a few months. A variety of factors can influence the length of time and may include;
- How much of the colon may have been removed, if any
- Is the rectum intact, if not how much was removed
- Length of time the patient had a colostomy leaving the detached part of colon and rectum dormant
- Where on the colon the initial colostomy was performed
- Age and overall health of the patient and their colon and rectum
- How well the location of the reversal surgery heals
- Too much scar tissue build up could cause partial blockages
The factors are numerous and varying. This is why it is almost impossible to predict or give a time table for when bowel movements will calm down and behave like they did before the initial colostomy. The readjustment of the colon may be a slow process for some patients. There also may be some colostomy reversal complications associated with the operation that may end up prolonging recovery time.
There are basically two phases to colostomy reversal recovery; first, the time the body takes to heal from the surgical procedure itself and secondly, the time for the colon to return to normal function and produce regular, routine bowel movements. Healing from the actual surgery may be the quicker of the two. Everyone’s body, type of surgery and situation is different. While some patients have no problems and are back to work in a month or two, others may need several months or longer to fully recover.
The road to feeling “whole” again and having a normal BM is usually something that is highly anticipated by patients undergoing a colostomy reversal procedure. No longer having a need to depend on colostomy bags or pouches or having to worry about colostomy care is something long looked forward to, but colostomy reversal recovery is a process that should not be rushed. Asking for advice from your surgeon and following that advice as well as their instructions for recovery is vital. Any severe pain, problems and worries should be passed on to your doctor, nurse or closest medical facility.