You were in the hospital because you had a blockage in your bowel (intestine). This condition is called an intestinal obstruction. The blockage may be partial or total (complete).
This article describes what to expect after surgery and how to take care of yourself at home.
When You're in the Hospital
While in the hospital, you received intravenous (IV) fluids. You also may have had a tube placed through your nose and into your stomach. You may have received antibiotics.
If you did not have surgery, your health care providers slowly began to give you liquids, and then food.
If you needed surgery, you may have had part of your large or small intestine removed. Your surgeon may have been able to sew the healthy ends of your intestines back together. You may also have had ileostomy or a colostomy.
If a tumor or cancer caused the blockage in your intestine, the surgeon may have removed it. Or, it may have been bypassed by routing your intestine around it.
What to Expect at Home
If you had surgery:
The outcome is usually good if the obstruction is treated before tissue damage or tissue death occurs in the bowel. Some people may have more bowel obstruction in the future.
If you did not have surgery:
Your symptoms may be completely gone. Or, you may still have some discomfort, and your stomach may still feel bloated. There is a chance your intestine may become blocked again.
Follow instructions for how to take care of yourself at home.
Eat small amounts of food several times a day. Do not eat 3 large meals. You should:
- Space out your small meals.
- Add new foods back into your diet slowly.
- Take sips of clear liquids throughout the day.
Some foods may cause gas, loose stools, or constipation as you recover. Avoid foods that cause these problems.
If you become sick to your stomach or have diarrhea, avoid solid foods for a while and try drinking only clear fluids.
Your surgeon may want you to limit exercise or strenuous activity for at least 4 to 6 weeks. Ask your surgeon what activities are OK for you to do.
If you have had an ileostomy or a colostomy, a nurse will tell you how to care for it.
When to Call the Doctor
Call your surgeon if you have:
- Vomiting or nausea
- Diarrhea that does not go away
- Pain that does not go away or is getting worse
- A swollen or tender belly
- Little or no gas or stools to pass
- Fever or chills
- Blood in your stool
Repair of volvulus - discharge; Reduction of intussusception - discharge; Release of adhesions - discharge; Hernia repair - discharge; Tumor resection - discharge
Mahmoud NN, Bleier JIS, Aarons CB, Paulson EC, Shanmugan S, Fry RD. Colon and rectum. In: Townsend CM Jr, Beauchamp RD, Evers BM, Mattox KL, eds. Sabiston Textbook of Surgery: The Biological Basis of Modern Surgical Practice. 20th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2017:chap 51.
Mizell JS, Turnage RH. Intestinal obstruction. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger and Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 11th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2021:chap 123.
Review Date 9/30/2020
Updated by: Debra G. Wechter, MD, FACS, general surgery practice specializing in breast cancer, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.