After colon resection, the patient is taken to the postanesthesia recovery unit (PACU) and is closely monitored by the nursing staff until the anesthesia wears off. When vital signs are stable and the patient is awake and coherent, he or she is transferred to the hospital room.

The intravenous remains in place until the colon has recovered sufficiently for food and fluid to be taken by mouth, and it is no longer needed to administer medication. The urinary catheter remains until bladder control returns.

As the anesthesia wears off, abdominal pain is felt, particularly by those who underwent the open procedure, and pain medication is prescribed and administered by injection or through the intravenous. Antibiotics may also be given postoperatively. This depends on a number of factors, including the original diagnosis.

Nothing may be taken by mouth until it is certain that normal colon function has resumed. This is determined by listening to the abdomen with a stethoscope to hear "bowel sounds" (the passage of gas), indicating that normal movement inside the colon has returned. The passage of stool is another indication that the colon is healing. In some cases, in order to keep the stomach empty, gastric contents are aspirated through a nasogastric tube, which is passed through the nose and down into the stomach.

After colon function returns, the patient is given clear liquids and the nasogastric tube is removed. If clear liquids are tolerated, the diet is slowly advanced until the patient is eating solid foods.

On the day after surgery, most patients can get out of bed and move around. It is important to get up as soon as possible, because physical activity stimulates bowel function and helps blood circulation return to normal.

Patients who undergo a laparoscopic colon resection generally experience less postoperative pain and leave the hospital within 2 to 3 days. Open surgery without complications usually involves a hospital stay from 3 to 10 days. Normal activity for all patients generally resumes within 1 to 3 weeks, but it takes much longer for the body to heal completely. So, patients must avoid strenuous exertion and heavy lifting for 4 to 6 weeks.

The open procedure leaves an abdominal scar a few inches long, which fades over time. Scarring from the laparoscopic procedure is minimal.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 31 Oct 2001

Last Modified: 17 Sep 2015