Please note: The information contained in this blog post is based on the average person’s recovery from stoma surgery. For more detailed recovery information based on your unique condition, please consult a healthcare professional. This advice is only intended as a general outline.
When we undergo any type of surgery, there is going to be a period of recovery time. Understanding what is expected of you following stoma surgery, can really help empower you to make a full recovery. It can also help your partner, family members or carers help to understand what you are going through, so they can provide you with support and encouragement when you need it the most. Healing is a slow and gradual process which can’t be rushed, take the time to rest and be kind to yourself during this post operative recovery phase. Recovering from stoma surgery is a different journey for each person and it may take longer for some patients than others.
If you are awaiting stoma surgery or recently post op, you might be wondering how long your recovery from stoma operation will take. Here, we give some guidance of what to expect. These are simply benchmarks of recovery, we will all recover in our own way and at our own pace.
What should I expect after my stoma surgery?
As with any type of surgery you’ll most likely feel quite tired and weak afterwards, your abdomen may also feel quite swollen and tender. It is so important that you rest following your surgery, however, it’s also important to keep mobilising as this can help aid recovery and prevent you from developing chest infections and blood clots. You might find your legs a bit wobbly at first until you get your strength back, just take it slow and don’t expect to be able to go straight back into your normal routine.
Post stoma surgery, it is completely normal to feel a bit emotional and slightly overwhelmed. Adjusting to how your body looks and feels can be an important part of your journey. Whether you want to talk about how you feel with regards to your stoma is a personal choice but let those close to you who have been by your side throughout, help you and understand what you need. Talking to people about your situation can be often be really helpful and will prevent any feelings of isolation.
What will my stoma look like after surgery?
After surgery, your abdomen and stoma will both be quite swollen, this is normal and nothing to worry about. Your stoma will be moist and pink-red in colour and will usually protrude from your abdomen (stomach). Immediately after your surgery, you will have a large clear bag over your stoma. This is so that your nurse can monitor the size, shape and output from the stoma without disturbing you. Further down the line there will be plenty of options for other stoma pouches which can be opaque in colour and smaller in size if this is what you prefer.
As you recover and the swelling reduces in the first few weeks, your stoma will also reduce in size quite significantly and its output will start to become more regular. At about 6-8 weeks your stoma will stop reducing and this will be the size it will remain, unless you gain or loose a significant amount of weight in the future. At this point your Stoma Care Nurse will take a measurement of your stoma for your pouches to be cut to the correct size, which will make your life a lot easier.
When will my stoma start working?
After surgery, it can take a few days for your stoma to start producing any output. Your bowel will be in a state of shock initially. Things you can do to help this process are remaining mobile and keeping hydrated. You may experience painful bloating during this stage as your stoma isn’t fully working yet, however, you can take pain relief to ease these pains.
Once your stoma does start producing output, it may be a little erratic and you could experience both diarrhoea and constipation. This is all completely normal and will settle down over the next couple of weeks.
Will I have any stitches?
Yes, you will have stitches to hold the skin around your stoma. These stitches will most likely be dissolvable around 6-8weeks following your stoma surgery and will not require a hospital appointment to remove them.
On occasions non-dissolvable stitches may be used, your stoma care nurse will let you know before you are discharged as these will need to be removed.
How long will it take to fully recover after my surgery?
If you are awaiting stoma surgery or are recently post-op, you might be wondering how long it will be until you are fully recovered. Of course, this can vary from person to person and the type of surgery you have had, but on average it should follow a pattern like this one:
Hospital for 3-10 days:
Most stoma patients are able to leave the hospital after just a few days following their stoma surgery. You should be prepared to spend up to 10 days in hospital in case of any complications. During this time, you may be kept on a drip to ensure you remain well hydrated. You might also have a catheter to drain urine and an oxygen mask to help you breathe.
Your stoma must be working before you are allowed home. Before you go home you will be shown how to care for your stoma, most importantly how to change and empty your bag. Also, how to keep the skin around your stoma clean and healthy to prevent infection. You must feel confident in caring for your stoma before you are allowed home. It is a good idea to ask a loved one to help you with this as you might feel weak at this stage of recovery and it can be a lot to take in all at once.
Home to rest 1-4weeks:
Once you leave hospital you will likely still be on bed rest and unable to do anything too strenuous.
In the first few weeks try to avoid doing any housework, chores or any lifting. Let family and friends help you, let them prepare meals, clean your house or water your garden for you. They can also help chauffeur you around if you are starting to go out and about.
During this time, you will hopefully feel your strength beginning to return as you recuperate, which should see you become slightly more active.
You may begin to do some light exercise during this time, such as short walks to help rebuild your strength. After 8 weeks you should be able to resume many of your normal activities.
Becoming more active after stoma surgery can seem daunting, but it is important to slowly ease your way into being active again.
Full recovery after 12 weeks (3months):
You will start to feel better and resume your daily life after 8 weeks with a bit of luck. But a full recovery from stoma surgery usually takes around 3 months as the abdominal muscles need to completely heal. Avoid any heavy lifting (a good rule of thumb is anything heavier than a kettle) or overly strenuous activities during this time.
For more advice on recovery after stoma surgery, check out our advice article.