Recovery from bowel obstruction surgery can last for several weeks and require rest and self-care. Your healthcare team will help you develop a recovery plan that meets your individual needs.

In Crohn’s disease, a narrowing of the intestines, known as a stricture, can happen due to chronic inflammation and repeated tissue damage. This narrowing can block the movement of food, fluids, air, or stool through the intestines and cause a complete or partial bowel obstruction.

Bowel obstruction is the most common complication of Crohn’s disease of the small intestine, and it can have serious consequences. If nothing is able to pass through your intestines, you may need surgery to relieve the blockage. More than one-third of people with Crohn’s disease need surgery to resolve bowel obstruction within 10 years of being diagnosed.

There are several types of surgeries used to treat bowel obstruction, depending on where the blockage is located and how severe it is:

  • Strictureplasty: During this procedure, a surgeon repairs a stricture by widening the narrowed area of the intestine. They don’t need to remove any portion of your intestine.
  • Small bowel resection: This procedure involves the removal of the damaged or blocked part of the small intestine. The healthy ends of the small intestine are then connected.
  • Large bowel resection: This procedure is similar to small bowel resection, but the surgeon removes the damaged portion of the large intestine, which includes the colon.
  • Ileocecal resection: A surgeon removes the end of the small intestine and the start of the colon, called the cecum. They then attach the healthy end of the small intestine to the colon. Your appendix may also need to be removed during this procedure.

This article will discuss what people who have Crohn’s disease and need bowel obstruction surgery should know about the recovery and healing process.

Recovery time after bowel obstruction surgery depends on your overall health and the type of operation that was performed. You can typically expect to stay in the hospital for about 3 to 7 days after surgery. Full recovery usually takes about a month to 6 weeks.

Older adults and those with other underlying health problems may require longer hospital stays after bowel surgery. Hospital stays are also typically longer for people who have open surgery versus those who have laparoscopic surgery.

  • Open surgery: The surgeon makes one large cut to access the surgical site.
  • Laparoscopic surgery: The surgeon makes several small incisions. They insert a long, thin tube with a camera attached to see your intestines. They can also insert surgical equipment through the incisions.

Healing from bowel obstruction surgery requires plenty of rest and self-care. Your surgeon or healthcare team will give you specific instructions for postoperative care.

In general, long-term outcomes after bowel obstruction surgery in Crohn’s disease are good, especially if the obstruction was treated before blood flow was affected. If blood flow is impaired, tissue damage or death can occur, which may require more of the bowel to be removed.

Crohn’s disease symptoms, including bowel obstructions, can happen again after surgery. Medications can usually help manage these symptoms, but up to 35% of people will need another surgery within 10 years of their first bowel obstruction surgery.

Recurrent bowel obstructions in the future are more likely to happen in people who have had several bowel surgeries, which can lead to the formation of scar tissue.

After bowel surgery, your doctor will typically recommend starting with a liquid-only diet for a few days. People with more extensive surgeries may need to stick to fluids for longer.

Clear fluids such as water, tea, or broths are generally recommended right after surgery. If you do well with those, your doctor may suggest adding other fluids such as juices, milk, and nutrition drinks.

When your healthcare team feels you are ready to start adding solids, it is recommended to start slow. You can typically start with foods that are soft, low fiber, and don’t cause constipation, nausea, or gas. Some examples may include:

  • smooth yogurt
  • white bread, rice, and pastas
  • smooth soups (no beans)
  • mashed potatoes (no skins)
  • well-cooked vegetables
  • lean proteins such as eggs and fish
  • crackers
  • bananas, peeled apples, or pears (avoid citrus fruits, grapes, and berries)

You may need to eat several small meals spaced throughout the day. Reintroduce foods slowly to make sure they don’t cause any intestinal upset. Also, be sure to continue drinking plenty of fluids during your recovery.

Your surgeon may recommend that you limit exercise and strenuous activity during your bowel surgery recovery, and you will likely feel tired and weak for the first couple of months after surgery.

Resting is good, but inactivity after bowel surgery can increase the likelihood of complications.

When you’re ready, walking is a great form of exercise to ease back into your normal levels of physical activity. You can start by walking for short distances a couple of times a day and gradually increase the amount of walking as you recover.

Your healthcare team can help answer any questions you may have about when you can start becoming physically active again after surgery and offer additional tips for low-stress exercises.

Most people generally do well after bowel obstruction surgery, but any surgery carries a risk for complications. Some of the potential complications after bowel surgery include:

  • formation of scar tissue in the intestines, which could lead to future obstructions
  • opening of the surgical edges within the bowels, leading to leakage of the intestinal contents
  • temporary paralysis of the bowels
  • other surgical complications, such as damage to nearby organs, blood clots, or infections

Other complications may develop over the long term after bowel surgery. In particular, colorectal surgeries, which involve the lower intestine, can lead to urogenital complications affecting urinary, sexual, and bowel health.

Most complications from bowel surgery are mild, but some can be serious. You may need urgent medical care if you have:

  • vomiting or nausea
  • fever or chills
  • blood in the stool
  • a swollen or tender belly
  • pain that won’t go away (or gets worse)
  • chronic diarrhea
  • little or no passage of gas or stool

Bowel obstruction is common in Crohn’s disease and may require surgery to resolve. Postoperative recovery can last for several weeks and requires plenty of rest and self-care. Your healthcare team will help you come up with a recovery plan based on your individual needs.

Most people do well after bowel surgery, but complications can occur. If you experience any of the symptoms listed above, talk with your healthcare team right away to determine whether additional medical care is needed.