Diarrhea after colon surgery

Bowel Resection

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Medically reviewed by Drugs.com. Last updated on Sep 24, 2019.

  • Care Notes
  • Aftercare Instructions
  • Discharge Care
  • Inpatient Care
  • Precare
  • En Español


  • Bowel resection is surgery to remove all or parts of the small or large intestine (bowel). This is done to treat conditions that affect the intestines, such as bleeding, blockages, inflammation (swelling), or infections. It may also be done to remove large polyps (growths) or early signs of tumors in the intestines. The intestines are part of the gastrointestinal (GI) system where food is digested (broken down). The small intestine is the tube that runs from the stomach to the colon (large intestine). It is made up of the duodenum, jejunum, and ileum. The colon is the long tube that connects the small bowel with the anus. The colon absorbs water from digested foods and turns the digested food into stool (bowel movements).

  • In a bowel resection, your caregiver makes an incision (cut) in the abdomen (stomach). The amount of bowel removed depends on the reason why this surgery is needed. An ileostomy or colostomy, which is an opening in the abdomen to drain stool into a bag, may also be made. With bowel resection, problems of the small and large intestines may be treated, and their symptoms relieved.

Take your medicine as directed:

Call your primary healthcare provider if you think your medicine is not working as expected. Tell him if you are allergic to any medicine. Keep a current list of the medicines, vitamins, and herbs you take. Include the amounts, and when, how, and why you take them. Take the list or the pill bottles to follow-up visits. Carry your medicine list with you in case of an emergency. Throw away old medicine lists.

  • Antibiotics: This medicine is given to help treat or prevent an infection caused by bacteria.
  • Pain medicine: You may need medicine to take away or decrease pain.
    • Learn how to take your medicine. Ask what medicine and how much you should take. Be sure you know how, when, and how often to take it.
    • Do not wait until the pain is severe before you take your medicine. Tell caregivers if your pain does not decrease.
    • Pain medicine can make you dizzy or sleepy. Prevent falls by calling someone when you get out of bed or if you need help.
  • Blood thinners: Blood thinners are medicines that help prevent blood clots from forming. Clots can cause strokes, heart attacks, and death. Blood thinners make it more likely for you to bleed or bruise. If you are taking a blood thinner:
    • Watch for bleeding from your gums or nose. Watch for blood in your urine and bowel movements. Use a soft washcloth on your skin and a soft toothbrush on your teeth. This can keep your skin and gums from bleeding. If you shave, use an electric shaver. Do not play contact sports, such as football.
    • Be aware of what medicines you take. Many medicines cannot be used when taking medicine to thin your blood. Tell your dentist and other caregivers that you take blood-thinning medicine. Wear or carry medical alert information that says you are taking this medicine.
    • Take this medicine exactly as your caregiver tells you. Tell your caregiver right away if you forget to take the medicine, or if you take too much. You may need to have regular blood tests while on this medicine. Your caregiver uses these tests to decide how much medicine is right for you.
    • Talk to your caregiver about your diet. This medicine works best when you eat about the same amount of vitamin K every day. Vitamin K is found in green leafy vegetables and other foods, such as cooked peas and kiwifruit.
  • Stool softeners: This medicine makes it easier for you to have a bowel movement. You may need this medicine to treat or prevent constipation.

Ask for information about where and when to go for follow-up visits:

For continuing care, treatments, or home services, ask for more information.

  • You may need to have samples of your blood taken for tests.

Prevent constipation:

High-fiber foods, extra liquids, and regular exercise can help you prevent constipation. Examples of high-fiber foods are fruit and bran. Prune juice and water are good liquids to drink. Regular exercise helps your digestive system work. You may also be told to take over-the-counter fiber and stool softener medicines. Take these items as directed.

Eat healthy foods:

Choose healthy foods from all the food groups every day. Include whole-grain bread, cereal, rice, and pasta. Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables, including dark green and orange vegetables. Include dairy products such as low-fat milk, yogurt, and cheese. Choose protein sources, such as lean beef and chicken, fish, beans, eggs, and nuts. Ask how many servings of fats, oils, and sweets you should have each day, and if you need to be on a special diet.

Drinking liquids:

Adults should drink about 9 to 13 cups of liquid each day. One cup is 8 ounces. Good choices of liquids for most people include water, juice, and milk. Coffee, soup, and fruit may be counted in your daily liquid amount. Ask your caregiver how much liquid you should drink each day.

Rest when you need to while you heal after surgery.

Slowly start to do more each day. Return to your daily activities as directed.

Wound care:

When you are allowed to bathe or shower, carefully wash the incision with soap and water. Afterwards, put on clean, new bandages. Change your bandages any time they get wet or dirty. Ask your caregivers for more information about wound care.


  • You have a feeling of being too full or bloated.
  • You have a fever.
  • You have chills, a cough, or feel weak and achy.
  • You have nausea (upset stomach) or vomiting (throwing up).
  • You are unable to have a BM.
  • You have questions or concerns about your surgery, condition, or care.


  • You feel very full and you cannot burp or vomit (throw up).
  • You have problems having a bowel movement or passing flatus (gas) or urine.
  • You have pus or a foul-smelling odor coming from your incision.
  • You have severe chest or shoulder pain all of a sudden.
  • Your abdomen becomes tender and hard.
  • Your stools are black or have blood in them.
  • Your vomit is greenish in color, looks like coffee grounds, or has blood in it.
  • You have chest pain or trouble breathing that is getting worse over time.
  • You suddenly feel lightheaded and have trouble breathing.
  • You have new and sudden chest pain. You may have more pain when you take deep breaths or cough. You may cough up blood.
  • Your arm or leg feels warm, tender, and painful. It may look swollen and red.

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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.

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Learn more about Bowel Resection (Aftercare Instructions)

IBM Watson Micromedex

  • Colectomy


Before Surgery for Colon Resection

Before your surgery, you may be asked to follow a special diet to help reduce your discomfort, and should drink plenty of water (eight 8-ounce glasses of water daily). Inform your doctor about any medications you take, including over-the-counter supplements. Some medications must be out of your system before surgery.

Preparing for Surgery
  • Your colon must be completely cleaned out before the procedure. This is called a “bowel prep.” Your doctor may have you do this at home or in the hospital. A number of cleansing methods may be used, including enemas or laxatives and a clear-liquid diet
  • Clear liquid diet: for 12 to 24 hours before your surgery, you will be told not to eat any solid foods and to drink only clear liquids. These include broth, plain coffee, gelatin, and clear fruit juice
  • Take nothing by mouth (“NPO”) after midnight on the night before your surgery. This includes water and chewing gum. Your stomach must be empty. If there are any required medications that your doctor has okayed, including antibiotic pills, take them with a small sip of water
  • Arrange for a ride home from the hospital
  • Arrange for help at home for the first few days after the surgery
  • Prior to the operation, blood tests, an electrocardiogram (EKG), or a chest x-ray might be required
During Colon Resection Surgery

The day of surgery you will come to the hospital and the nurses will get you ready for surgery. They may clean and shave the surgical area, start an IV, and answer any last-minute questions.

You will be put to sleep by the anesthesiologist before the procedure begins.

After Surgery

You will be admitted into the hospital for 4 to 8 days. During your stay, you’ll be monitored carefully to make sure you’re healing well and that your colon has started working again.

A nasogastric (NG) tube, going through your nose and into your stomach, may be used to keep your stomach empty for a few days. The surgery will cause a postoperative ileus. This is a temporary paralysis of a portion of the intestines preventing food or drinks from moving forward. For this reason, it is important for you to slowly start your diet to prevent complications. You’ll receive the fluids you need intravenously during that time. When you start to pass gas, it is a sign that your colon is working again. The hospital will then start you on a liquid diet. If you are tolerating the liquid diet with no nausea or increased abdominal pain, you will progress to a soft diet, typically in a day or so. You should continue the soft diet for 2 to 8 weeks after surgery, depending on your healing and what your doctor instructs. We will provide a list of foods to help you choose a soft diet when you have returned home.

You should be up and walking within a day or two after surgery. This will encourage your circulation and bowel function to return to normal, and may prevent complications.

Do your breathing exercises to make sure you are inflating your lungs completely. It may be painful for your abdomen at first but it is important to do these exercises to clear any fluid that may be in your lungs from surgery, and prevent pneumonia.

Caring for Yourself after Surgery

Activity/Work: When you return home, take it easy. Do not do any strenuous activities or heavy lifting of more than 5 to 10 pounds for at least 4 to 6 weeks after surgery. (A gallon of milk weighs just over 8 pounds.) You can begin having sex again when you feel ready, usually 2 to 4 weeks post surgery. You can return to work 1 to 2 weeks after laparoscopic surgery, and 3 to 4 week after an open surgical repair, depending on the type of work and if light duty is acceptable.

Shower: You can shower 24 to 48 hours after surgery, unless otherwise instructed by your doctor. There will be sterile tape (called a “steri-strip”) over the incision. Leave the tape on while showering. Do not soak in a bath or hot tub. Sometimes an incision is stapled and you won’t have steri-strips. In this case you can shower without a bandage. Be sure to dry the area well afterwards.

Driving: Do not drive while taking pain medications. It is considered driving “under the influence.” You will be able to drive when you feel capable of making a quick decision and no longer need narcotic pain medications.

Incision care: Your incision will be dressed with a sterile bandage or “steri-strips.” Leave this bandage on until it falls off on its own or until your doctor takes it off in the office. There may be some redness around the edges of the incision. An infection may be starting if the drainage is thick green or yellow, or if the skin around the incision is increasingly red or warm to touch. Call your doctor if these symptoms occur.

Fever: Your temperature can vary after surgery and a low-grade temperature is common. If your temperature exceeds 101.5 degrees or if it is accompanied by chills, vomiting, or flu-like symptoms, you should call the office.

Pain: Pain control is very important after surgery. Be sure to stay ahead of the pain and take your pain medication as prescribed by your doctor. You may add Advil (ibuprofen) to your pain medication if you do not have any allergies or contraindications for taking it. Ask your doctor if you have any questions. Right shoulder pain is common after laparoscopic surgery. This may be due to the gas used to inflate your abdomen. It will dissipate in a few days.

Constipation is common after surgery. Taking pain medications such as vicodin or percocet also cause the bowel to move more slowly. A stool softener, such as Colace, milk of magnesium, or prune juice may help.

Diarrhea is also common after a colon resection. Your colon is shortened and therefore stool may pass at a faster rate. Give it time, approximately 6-8 weeks, and your colon should start to function more normally. When a long piece of colon is removed, however, a faster transit time may be a permanent side effect of the surgery.

Nausea is common after surgery. Be sure to take your pain medication on a full stomach. Stick to a soft, bland diet for the first few weeks after surgery. If necessary, call your doctor for prescription medication to aid with nausea.


You will start a liquid-to-soft diet in the hospital. Continue this diet for the first 2 to 6 weeks after surgery. Refer to our handout on soft diet after Colon surgery .

  • Eat foods that are easy to swallow and digest, such as soup, bananas, gelatin, pudding, and yogurt.
  • Eat frequent, small meals.
  • Once you begin eating regular meals, you may feel full faster. This will go away over time.
When to Call the Doctor
  • Fever over 101.5 degrees
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Persistent, increasing pain
  • Bleeding
  • Increased redness or drainage from an incision
  • Change in skin color/jaundice
  • Pain or swelling in your calf
  • Cough or shortness of breath
When to Go to the Emergency Room
  • Uncontrolled bleeding from an incision
  • Persistent vomiting
  • Change in mental status
  • Severe shortening of breath, chest pain
Staying Healthy after Surgery

In 4 to 8 weeks you will be recovered from surgery and back on a regular diet, but it is important to keep your colon healthy. This includes eating plenty of high-fiber fruits, vegetables, and whole grains throughout the day. Also, drink plenty of liquids such as water and juice. Some patients find that avoiding seeds and nuts that might get stuck in a diverticula helps prevent a flare up and pain.

Eat enough fiber: You need 25 to 30 grams of fiber each day. Try choosing fiber-rich foods throughout the day and add pure (unprocessed) bran to your food or drinks. You can also use a stool-bulking agent such as psyllium (like Metamucil) or methylcellulose (Citrucel).

Drink enough liquids: Liquids help your body digest food and move it through your system in a timely manner. Most people should drink at least 8 glasses of liquid each day. Avoid coffee and sodas because they may cause spasms and pressure in your colon. To increase your liquid intake try the following:

  • Bring a bottle or a jug of water with you to work and pour yourself a cup every hour
  • Drink plenty of liquids with and between meals
  • Take water with you when you exercise to replenish the liquid your body loses

Virtual Programs

MSK’s Virtual Programs offer online education and support for patients and caregivers, even when you can’t come to MSK in person. Through live, interactive sessions, you can learn about your diagnosis, what to expect during treatment, and how to prepare for the various stages of your cancer care. Sessions are confidential, free, and led by expert clinical staff. If you’re interested in joining a Virtual Program, visit our website at www.mskcc.org/vp for more information.

For more online information, visit the Cancer Types section of www.mskcc.org.

External Support Services

Ostomy Support Services

The Ostomy Association

Wound Ostomy Continence Organization

Go to this website to find a CWOCN in your area. The website also has information on resources, suppliers of ostomy products, and support groups.

General Support Services

In New York City, the MTA offers a shared ride, door-to-door service for people with disabilities who can’t take the public bus or subway.

Air Charity Network

Provides travel to treatment centers.

American Cancer Society (ACS)

800-ACS-2345 (800-227-2345)
Offers a variety of information and services, including Hope Lodge, a free place for patients and caregivers to stay during cancer treatment.

Cancer and Careers

A resource for education, tools, and events for employees with cancer.


275 Seventh Avenue (Between West 25th & 26th Streets)
New York, NY 10001
Provides counseling, support groups, educational workshops, publications, and financial assistance.

Cancer Support Community

Provides support and education to people affected by cancer.

Caregiver Action Network

Provides education and support for people who care for loved ones with a chronic illness or disability.

Corporate Angel Network

Offers free travel to treatment across the country using empty seats on corporate jets.

Gilda’s Club

A place where men, women, and children living with cancer find social and emotional support through networking, workshops, lectures, and social activities.

Good Days

Offers financial assistance to pay for copayments during treatment. Patients must have medical insurance, meet the income criteria, and be prescribed medication that’s part of the Good Days formulary.

Healthwell Foundation

Provides financial assistance to cover copayments, health care premiums, and deductibles for certain medications and therapies.

Joe’s House

Provides a list of places to stay near treatment centers for people with cancer and their families.

LGBT Cancer Project

Provides support and advocacy for the LGBT community, including online support groups and a database of LGBT-friendly clinical trials.


Provides reproductive information and support to cancer patients and survivors whose medical treatments have risks associated with infertility.

National Cancer Institute

800-4-CANCER (800-422-6237)

National Cancer Legal Services Network

Free cancer legal advocacy program.

National LGBT Cancer Network

Provides education, training, and advocacy for LGBT cancer survivors and those at risk.

Needy Meds

Lists Patient Assistance Programs for brand and generic name medications.


Provides prescription benefits to eligible employees and retirees of public sector employers in New York State.

Partnership for Prescription Assistance

Helps qualifying patients without prescription drug coverage get free or low-cost medications.

Patient Access Network Foundation

Provides assistance with copayments for patients with insurance.

Patient Advocate Foundation

Provides access to care, financial assistance, insurance assistance, job retention assistance, and access to the national underinsured resource directory.


Provides assistance to help people get medications that they have trouble affording.

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Educational Resources

This section contains the educational resources that were referred to throughout this guide. These resources will help you get ready for your surgery and recover safely after surgery.

Write down your questions and be sure to ask your doctor or nurse.

  • Advance Care Planning
  • Call! Don’t Fall!
  • Common Medications Containing Aspirin and Other Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Herbal Remedies and Cancer Treatment
  • How to Use Your Incentive Spirometer
  • Information for Family and Friends for the Day of Surgery
  • What You Can Do to Avoid Falling

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