Postoperative Care after Fistulotomy

After surgery, the patient is taken to the recovery room or post anesthesia recovery unit (PACU) and is closely monitored by the nursing staff until they are stable. The amount of time spent in the PACU depends on the patient's progress and the type of anesthesia used. Patients who received local anesthesia generally recover more quickly and leave the PACU faster. Those who received general anesthesia must be awake and coherent before they are transferred.

Ice chips are offered to the patient, and if those are tolerated, water is given. The intravenous line remains in until clear liquids are taken and tolerated. This may occur almost immediately following surgery, especially if local anesthesia was used. Sometimes general anesthesia causes nausea, which may delay taking oral fluids. Once clear liquids are tolerated, the diet quickly progresses to solid foods.

From the PACU, the patient is transferred back to the outpatient or ambulatory unit, where recovery is completed. Inpatients are transferred to their room. Most patients can go home within a few hours, once they are up and walking around. Even though the anesthesia has worn off, most patients remain groggy for the rest of the day. This is true for patients who received local anesthesia as well, because of the sedative that was given. A family member or friend should be present upon discharge, if it is the same day as the surgery.

Spinal anesthesia usually wears off within a few hours. In the first hour following surgery, patients lie flat on their back to decrease the chance of an anesthetic-induced headache, which can be painful and prolonged. Before being discharged, a patient must have full sensation in the region of their body that was numbed.

Unfortunately, most patients experience mild to moderate pain following these procedures, and the first few postoperative days can be quite uncomfortable. Medication is prescribed to help cope with the first few days. If the pain is mild, an over-the-counter remedy may be sufficient. All pain medication should be taken according to instructions.

In addition to medication, other measures can be taken to reduce discomfort and speed healing. The bandage or dressing should be kept on for at least several hours after discharge, but sitz baths can be taken the evening of the operation or the following morning. A sitz bath is a shallow bath filled with warm water, and is very helpful in keeping the area clean and easing pain. They should be taken at least twice a day, for 10 to 15 minutes. The surgeon may or may not recommend adding Epsom salts.

The pain usually disappears within a few days, but complete healing takes a few weeks. The time lost from work or school is generally minimal.

The healing fistula may have some normal drainage. A gauze pad or sanitary napkin can prevent it from soiling clothes.

Many patients dread having their first bowel movement following anal surgery, and it can be uncomfortable. However, a bowel movement does not affect healing, and it is much worse to become constipated. Eating a high fiber diet and drinking six to eight glasses of water a day can help prevent constipation. Stool softeners may also be helpful.

There may be some bleeding, especially when having a bowel movement. Using moistened toilet paper or baby wipes reduces irritation and keeps the area clean. Some doctors may prescribe an ointment to reduce infection and assist in healing. If so, this should be applied after a bowel movement, sitz bath, and/or as directed.

Sitting upright in a chair can be painful. Using a donut ring, a cushion with a hole in the middle, can make this position more comfortable. Normal activities can be resumed when it feels comfortable to do so.

Fistulotomy Postoperative Complications

Complications from this procedure are rare and include:

  • Excessive bleeding
  • Fecal incontinence, which is the loss of the ability to control bowel movements
  • Inability to urinate
  • Infection
  • Problems resulting from anesthesia

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

Published: 01 Nov 2001

Last Modified: 21 Dec 2011