An ileostomy doesn’t have to mean a drastic change in your lifestyle. Here’s what to expect as you recover.
Now that you’ve made the decision to undergo an ileostomy, you’ll likely have many questions about what life will be like after surgery. Fortunately, your doctor will work with you to ensure you have a safe and healthy recovery.
A return to your normal activities is possible, but you might need to make some minor lifestyle adjustments, especially in the days and weeks immediately after your operation. Fortunately, with time, patience, and support from your physicians and nurses, you can enjoy a successful recovery.
An ileostomy is performed when your intestinal tract has been damaged by colon cancer or an inflammatory disease, such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease. These conditions often cause painful and debilitating symptoms that can be relieved with an ileostomy.
During the procedure, a surgeon detaches a portion of the ileum, or small intestine, and brings it through the wall of the stomach to form a stoma. Fecal waste will exit the stoma into an external pouch in most types of ileostomies. Another type of ileostomy, the BCIR or Barnett Continent Intestinal Reservoir, creates an area within the small intestine where stool collects and can be drained through a tube. No external appliances are needed in a BCIR operation. An ileostomy can be permanent or temporary and reversed at a future date, depending on the illness being treated and the extent of the disease.
An ileostomy operation typically necessitates a hospital stay of two to three days or up to a week. While in the hospital, you’ll be given liquids for a day or two until you can begin to digest solid foods. During your stay, a stoma nurse will discuss living with your ileostomy and caring for your stoma.
Full recovery from an ileostomy takes about two months. As you recover, you’ll need to make some lifestyle changes to support the healing process. To better understand what your recovery will be like, here are five questions you can ask your doctor and nurse about life with an ileostomy.
What Can I Eat?
Immediately following surgery, stick to low-fiber foods that are easy to digest and don’t cause excessive gas. Avoid raw vegetables, dairy products, whole grain cereals, nuts, and fatty fried foods. Instead, pick foods that promote good digestion and thicken stool, such as bananas, apple sauce, cheese, and pasta. Because a portion of your intestine that would absorb water has been removed, drink plenty of water to stay properly hydrated. As you heal, you can add more foods to your diet and note which ones cause any digestive problems.
When Can I Exercise Again?
Strenuous workouts that involve weight lifting, jogging, or bike riding are not recommended in the early days of your recovery. Your doctor will tell you when you can resume your full exercise routine. In the meantime, a daily walk helps the healing process by promoting blood flow. When you do return to your previous workout regimen, you may want to wear protective gear around the stoma to prevent injury.
How Do I Care for My Pouch?
Your stoma nurse will instruct you on how to attach and change your pouching system. Your nurse can also help you order the supplies you’ll need. As you care for your stoma, watch for any changes along the skin surrounding the opening. If you notice any inflammation, contact your healthcare team for advice on products to heal the irritation. As for any unpleasant smells, many pouches are made with filters that eliminate odors. After surgery, you can shower with or without your pouch — the stoma will not be harmed by soap and water.
Will There Be Any Complications?
As with any major surgery, an ileostomy may cause post-op complications, such as an obstruction in the intestine. If you don’t empty any stool for six hours and are experiencing cramps, you could have a blockage caused by scar tissue or undigested food. To move the obstruction, drink water and avoid solid foods. You can also lie on your back, massage your stomach, and pull your knees to your chest, moving from side to side. If those steps fail to clear the blockage, be sure to call your doctor.
Can I Take My Medications?
You can take your normal prescriptions, although for better absorption, your doctor may suggest you switch to an uncoated pill, or a powder or liquid version. If you’re on a blood thinner, your doctor will tell you when to start taking that medication again. Your doctor may also prescribe pain medication or an antibiotic. Be sure to follow your doctor’s instructions on taking these and all other medications.
The Center for Ileostomy Surgery is dedicated to helping our patients live full lives with an ileostomy. We’re here to answer your questions and provide the best possible care. Contact us today for an appointment.