Thursday, September 21, 2006

Post-op: bowel activity

When bowels are handled and disturbed, as happens during a hysterectomy or any other abdominal surgery, they shut down activity for a period of time. This is why women are often surprised to find that they are limited to only liquids for the first day or so after their hyst: this gives the bowels a rest and doesn't overwhelm them before they are ready to resume activity. Eating too soon will only cause the undigestible food to back up, producing vomiting that is not a real appealing prospect for anyone who has just had abdominal surgery--not a pleasant thing to contemplate.

How do we know that our bowels are returning to function? Our caregivers can hear the sounds of sloshing when they listen with a stethescope, and before long, we can feel or hear the passage of gas. This is such an important recovery milestone that it is one of the criteria for discharge: we have to actually pass gas to demonstrate that our bowels are capable of taking up their digestive functions again.

For many women, this signals the most frustrating and uncomfortable part of recovery, however: dealing with gas and constipation. Narcotic drugs, low physical activity levels, a low-fiber diet, not drinking enough, and, for those who are users, lack of caffeine all contribute to impaired bowel motility and enhance these gas and constipation effects.

But those causes also provide us with a good set of things we can do to limit these unpleasant symptoms of our bowels recovering.