In some cases, a colostomy can be reversed. Here’s what patients need to know about colostomy reversal, including what to expect before and after the procedure.
Patients suffering from a serious intestinal disorder such as cancer or diverticulitis may decide to have a colostomy to treat the condition and improve their quality of life. Some colostomies are permanent, but others can be reversed after a period of healing.
Typically, a temporary or “loop” colostomy permits the surgeon to later reverse the colostomy. During a “loop” colostomy procedure, the surgeon makes an incision into the side of the colon and then attaches it to a stoma, or opening in the abdominal wall, through which fecal matter collects in a bag. This enables the surgeon to easily reattach the colon, allowing patients to resume normal bowel function.
Whether a colostomy can be reversed depends on several factors. Since a colostomy and a reversal entail two major surgeries, the patient should be healthy enough to endure both and have no signs of disease. How much colon is left intact is another important factor. The bowel and anal sphincters should also be strong enough to manage bowel movements following the reversal.
In general, patients should wait three to 12 months before a reversal can be done. If the colostomy was performed to remove cancer, patients will need to complete treatment prior to a colon reattachment.
Before a reversal, the doctor will examine the bowel with a flexible sigmoidoscopy — a thin tube with a camera attached to it — to check on the healing process. Patients may also be given an enema to make sure there are no leaks in the bowel connection.
Though not as intensive as the colostomy operation, patients can expect to be hospitalized for three to five days after the reversal. Immediately after surgery, patients will follow a liquid diet before progressing to soft foods.
At first, patients may experience some pain or discomfort when passing stools. Since the colon has been inactive for months, patients can regain control of their bowel function with pelvic muscle retraining under the guidance of a physical therapist. Within a few months, these symptoms should diminish.
During the recovery period, patients are advised to consume smaller, low-fiber foods and drink eight glasses of water a day to prevent constipation. They should avoid alcohol, caffeinated drinks, and spicy and fatty foods that might cause diarrhea.
As with any major surgery, a colostomy reversal carries some degree of risk. To promote healing and healthy digestion, patients should stay active and take short, regular walks. However, they must wait six to eight weeks before doing any heavy lifting.
At the Center for Ileostomy Surgery, we perform both colostomies and ileostomies, as well as reversals. If you decide to undergo one of these procedures, our caring staff will guide you through the process with compassion, making sure you understand your options. After surgery, our specialists will guide you through your recovery and help you achieve an active, fulfilling life. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.