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Recovering from laparoscopic surgery

Dr Donald Angstetra answers some common questions about what to expect after laparoscopic surgery.

Recovering from laparoscopic surgery is different for everyone. Patient expectation, extent of surgery, length of surgery, the surgeon and the facility all play a role in how someone recovers after laparoscopic surgery. And as always, you should ask your doctor about any specific concerns you have.

I’ve put together the following information to help answer some frequently asked questions and to outline some of the common experiences that may occur after your surgery.

Length of stay

Laparoscopy is usually performed as a day-stay basis, but an overnight stay may be required if the surgery is complex or lengthy. If a bowel resection or partial bowel resection is performed, your hospital stay may be extended by several days. Some may take only a few days to recover, but others may take several weeks to heal completely.

Activity after surgery

Your doctor may restrict driving for two weeks and only begin driving when you feel strong enough to be able to stop the vehicle in an emergency. Avoid swimming and bathing. Use common sense when starting routine exercise and gradually advance your activity. You will recover more quickly if you move about. You should NOT be bedridden.

Sex activity

Intercourse should be avoided for two to four weeks, depending on your surgery. You should avoid intercourse for a minimum of six weeks if you had hysterectomy to allow the top of the vagina to fully heal.

Shower and Wound care

You may take a shower the day after surgery. However, keep your wound dry and clean. Your incisions are closed with a suture underneath the skin, which will dissolve on its own. It is then covered with “derma-bond”, a surgical-glue. This protects the incision and will last for two weeks or longer. The glue can be removed by gentle scrubbing during shower.

Some bruises at the incision sites can happen and it will resolve by itself. Pain around the incision sites resolve over several days. “Pins and needles” at the incision site due to the nerves being cut. These nerves will heal.

Vaginal bleeding

Vaginal spotting may last for several weeks and should resolve.  However, heavy bleeding, increasing bleeding or foul smelly discharges is not normal.

Sore throat

Some patients will have a sore throat from the tube that is placed during anaesthesia. Throat lozenges or warm tea will help soothe the discomfort.

Pain following surgery

The rule of thumb is “Pain should resolve over time and will get better every day”.

Talk to your doctor about medication you can use to help with the pain. Using a heat pack on the lower abdomen is safe. If you experience coughing and this is uncomfortable, place a pillow on the abdomen to provide support.

Shoulder pain

This is caused by carbon dioxide gas trapped against the diaphragm (breathing muscle) which known as “referred pain”. This type of pain can be quite uncomfortable and may last several days. It can be aided by walking and moving around. Talk to your doctor about other pain relief options such as massage, cold/heat pack and medications.

Abdominal discomfort/ bloating

Some degree of abdominal distension (swelling) is to be expected after surgery. This is due to distension of the intestines and resolves over time. Walking encourages the movement of the bowels. A heat pack may also provide relief. If you are allowed to drink, hot peppermint tea is a great remedy to help gastrointestinal motility and relieve painful gas pains.

Nausea

Nausea after laparoscopy is very common. Anaesthesia drugs are the main cause for nausea.  Many medications exist to help. Some can be taken before surgery, during or after surgery. Ginger tea may help.

Loose clothing following surgery

Wear loose-fitting, comfortable clothes during the first few weeks after laparoscopy. The incision site will be tender, and the abdomen swollen.

Things to watch following surgery

  • Fever higher than 38 degrees
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness
  • Heavy vaginal bleeding
  • Severe pain not relieved with pain medication
  • Persistent nausea or vomiting
  • Increased pain, redness, or swelling at the incision
  • Severe diarrhoea, bloody diarrhoea, or diarrhoea is accompanied by fever or worsening pain
  • Inability to pass urine.

Always go to your nearest hospital if an emergency visit is necessary post-operatively.

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