Although a stoma will be permanent for some ostomates, those with a temporary colostomy or ileostomy may be able to have the procedure reversed if they choose to do so.
Whether it’s a few months after your initial surgery or you opt to reverse your stoma a few years later, stoma reversal surgery is a major step for ostomates. The same goes for your recovery too, so it’s important to know what you should expect following the reversal.
If you’re fresh from stoma reversal surgery or you’ve been considering having the procedure, then this resource is for you. Below, you’ll find plenty of tips and insights to make your recovery as comfortable as possible, along with accounts from Shane, an ostomate who’s experienced reversal and recovery first-hand.
What to expect from a stoma reversal
How long will I spend in hospital?
The amount of time you spend in hospital after your surgery is individual to you. However generally, you could expect to stay in hospital for 3 to 10 days, particularly if you’re having end colostomy reversal.
For loop colostomy or ileostomy reversal, meanwhile, you could be in hospital for around 3 to 5 days. Whatever procedure you’ve had, the surgeons looking after you will want to make sure you can open your bowels and pass gas before allowing you to leave. They’ll also use the time to ensure that there’s no narrowing from the surgery scars, which can cause blockages in the bowel.
How will I feel after a stoma reversal?
After your stoma reversal, your bowels could feel a little unusual. Of course, it’ll take time for them to heal and return to a degree of regularity. How long will this take? It’s different for everyone, as is what constitutes a satisfactory bowel function.
Until things settle into a pattern, you may experience the following for the first few weeks:
- Loose output and/or constipation
- Going to the toilet more often
- Bowel movements becoming more urgent
- Difficulty distinguishing gas from bowel movements
- Sore skin around the back passage
- A feeling that your bowels haven’t completely emptied
If after a few weeks you’re still feeling these symptoms, then your surgeon or nurse should be able to offer you advice on how to reduce them.
What can I eat after a stoma reversal?
Watching your eating can help keep your gut feeling good post-surgery. Your digestive system won’t be used to the way things are right now, so it’ll take some time before you start eating your regular diet again.
Before your stomach settles, it’s a good idea to reduce your intake of food which can irritate the gut, such as:
- Acidic or citrus fruits
- Spicy or fatty foods
- Vegetables that give you gas
- Fizzy drinks, alcohol or caffeine
Until your appetite returns to normal, and you feel more up to eating a healthy, balanced diet, the NHS recommends eating little but often. If there are any foods that seem to be causing problems, be sure to stop eating them for a while.
As for drinking, eight cups of water a day should be what you’re aiming for. But if you’re feeling a little constipated, you may need to drink more.
How should I care for my wound?
It’s advisable to look at your wound every day so you can see how it’s healing up. A clean, dry wound will be less prone to infection. Keeping it wrapped with a dressing for the first week will help – just be sure to change it after showering or bathing.
Call your ward if you’ve noticed any signs of infection. These include:
- An increase in pain, swelling or inflammation
- Redness around the wound
- Discharge or fluid from the wound
When can I exercise after a stoma reversal?
Being active might be the last thing you want to do after reversal surgery. But walking around as soon as possible can help regulate breathing, improves your circulation and helps you regain your strength.
It’s all about building up slowly here. Giving yourself some realistic goals is a good way of getting active again. You may want to go for a short walk one day, and then increase the distance when you feel up to it, for example.
At this point, it’s important to seek advice from your stoma nurse about how much exercise you should undertake every week as well as the intensity and types. This will help you tailor a programme to your ability and give you the best chance of rebuilding your strength and fitness.
Chatting with Shane about his stoma reversal surgery
How were you feeling in the run-up to the surgery?
I was very anxious due to the issues of my previous two surgeries, but I felt as though I couldn’t say anything as I didn’t want my family to feel the same. I was keen to get the surgery done though. Since I didn’t have any actual issues with my stoma, I had talked myself out of it on a few different occasions – but I supposed this wouldn’t have been the case if I was having problems with it.
How did things go on the day of the surgery itself? How long was your stay in hospital?
The day of the surgery went well. I was dropped off at the hospital at 9am and proceeded to the theatre lounge to be booked in. I was a little nervous, but once I was in the hospital, I soon calmed down after going through the paperwork and having all my observations done.
I then had to sit and wait, before being taken down to the theatre to be made ready for my reversal. I came around at about 6pm, and for the most part, I felt OK aside from feeling a little groggy. I stayed in hospital for about a week, after which I was discharged.
Stoma reversal surgery is shorter and less demanding than stoma surgery, but it was obviously a hugely significant step for you. Can you tell us how you were feeling after the procedure?
I was looking forward to the next chapter of my life, but I was also thinking about how the next few days and weeks were going to pan out. I wasn’t sure what was going to happen really; I guess I had to let nature take its course. Before the reversal, it was more about setting goals for myself.
My surgery wound was different than before as I didn’t have an open wound to deal with this time around. I was on pain medication for a couple of days and slowly the tubes and drips were removed within that time as well. So, my initial recovery went well – better than I had anticipated actually!
When you returned home, was there anything you needed to be mindful of regarding things like diet or exercise?
When I returned home, I was concerned about going to the toilet normally again. To help, I set myself up a little cleaning kit which consisted of some dry wipes, Trio’s Elisse barrier wipes, and a pot of Sudocrem. Basically, cleaning yourself after you have started to use the toilet is a good habit to get into.
On the dietary side of things, I ate small meals often. I would suggest a soft diet at first, and then building up over the next few days when you feel ready. And make sure that you drink plenty of fluid too! I avoided gassy drinks at first but I’m not a lover of fizzy drinks anyway, so that wasn’t much of a problem.
Exercise-wise, I had a hernia repair completed at the same time, so I had to refrain from heavy lifting. I had about six weeks’ recovery time and then returned to work. To help aid the recovery time, I slowly built myself up by walking as much as possible.
What advice would you give to anyone considering going ahead with stoma reversal surgery?
Try not to read into other people’s stories too much. Your journey is unique to you. Take things slowly when recovering and listen to your body. If it’s saying stop then stop. Plan well and it will benefit you afterwards and going forward.
The other thing I’d say is that most of your surgery is inside; when you can’t see anything apart from a wound you can become complacent, so be sure to bear that in mind.
We’re betting you’re feeling positive about the future! What are you most looking forward to doing after you’re fully recovered?
I’m looking forward to regaining my drive and enthusiasm about helping others, walking, returning to the gym and swimming. Once the weather has improved, I’ll be getting the bike back out as well! I’ve also started on a photography venture, so I’m going to take a few snaps while I’m out walking too!
At Trio, we’re dedicated to letting you live your life your way: comfortably, safely and worry-free. To check out our essential range of skincare products head here, and for more stoma advice, news and guest posts, take a look at the Trio blog here.