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Eating After Surgery

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Eating After Surgery

Sep 25, 2018

One of the first steps to recovery following abdominal surgery is to get your digestive tract working again. But sometimes that presents a challenge. Surgeon Dr. Jeffery Campsen explains the steps to take for moving your digestive tract out of hibernation and back to healthy function.

Episode Transcript

Interviewer: You've had a surgery now what do you eat afterwards? Does it matter? We're going to find out next on The Scope.

Announcer: Health information from expects, supported by research. From University of Utah Health, this is

Does Your Diet Matter After Surgery?

Interviewer: After you've had a surgery does your diet influence how well you'll heal? We're with Dr. Jeffrey Camden. He's a surgeon at the University of Utah Hospital. Does your diet matter after surgery?

Dr. Jeff Campsen: I think so. Let's start from the beginning, so you have some sort of inter-abdominal surgery, and you come out of the surgery, and at some point you're going to want to eat again. Some people take a couple days to feel hungry, some people want to eat right away, and it depends on what's going on. So we sit down as the managing team and really try to make sure that your intestines for lack of a better word wake back up and can accept food and basically allow you not to get sick after surgery. So the things that we look for are basically everybody hears their stomach rumble, we want to hear those sounds. So after surgery sometimes your intestines can shut down. It's called an ileus and it basically means that the intestines aren't actively moving food forward, and so if that's happening then you can't eat yet.

Interviewer: And that rumbling is that what's happening?

Dr. Jeff Campsen: That's your intestines basically waking back up. Basically being comfortable that no one's going to go in and touch them again and operate on them again.

2 Tips to Help Your Intestines Post-Surgery

It's interesting there's actually two things that help your intestines wake up and they've been proven. One is getting up out of bed and walking because that normalcy and the pumping of blood from the walking through the body helps, and then there is a good study out of the Mayo Clinic that said chewing bubble gum actually helps intestines come back quicker, and it's probably because you're not really creating any food but you're giving that sort of reflex of tasting something in your mouth and stimulating your stomach and your lower intestines to think that they need to be working, and so chewing gum and walking those two things are probably the best advice that you can get to moving along.

Interviewer: Got you, alright so what types of foods do you want to start eating at that point?

Signs to Watch For While Recovering

Dr. Jeff Campsen: So at that point when we start hearing bowel sounds, and we actually ask our patients, you know, "Are you passing gas?" This is a difficult question for some people because no one wants to admit that, but in this particular case that's a good thing and we want to hear that. What we don't want to hear from you is that you're burping. Burping's bad, that means that stuff's not going through and it's backing up in your stomach's getting distended. The reason that that's concerning is if your stomach gets too distended it can cause you to vomit, and if you vomit too much and you've just had surgery, and you're mildly sedated you can actually breathe that vomit in which is called aspiration, and it can give you a very bad pneumonia.

Interviewer: Does that have any chance at that point of rupturing those internal sutures?

Dr. Jeff Campsen: I think that it can. Your abdominal wall is going to spasm to do those violent vomiting episodes, and you probably can damage the repairs that we've made on you, and so we'd prefer that not to happen.

Interviewer: So at this point are you still under the care of a physician and a team?

Dr. Jeff Campsen: Yes.

Interviewer: Up until this point.

Post-Surgery Diet: Liquids to Soft Foods

Dr. Jeff Campsen: Right, so you've come out of the operating room, we're in the first sort of 24 hours, 24, 72 hours, are you starting...Are you not burping, is your intestines making the rumbling sounds, and plus or minus are you passing some gas? At that point what we would start you on is basically some clear liquids. If you can see through it it's not thick, not milk which is very thick, we start you on that. If you can tolerate clear liquids then we, what we call it is advanced diet is tolerated, then you may go onto something soft, it's called a soft mechanical diet, that's not very spicy, not hot, not all these kind of things that may upset your stomach, that's very bland. Bread and sort of soup those kind of things and if you handle that then you can move along to what you would want to eat.

Maintain A Healthy Diet at Home

Interviewer: Alright and when you get discharged and you go home what should you be thinking about in your diet at that point?

Dr. Jeff Campsen: Well I think at that point you can basically go back and eat whatever you would normally want to eat. I do think it's an opportunity to really reevaluate what you are eating and basically try to eat healthy because if you've had inter-abdominal surgery you need the building blocks for healing, protein, sugars, different things that go into along your abdominal wall to heal, and if you're eating unhealthy during that time you're not going to give your body the kind of tools and building blocks that it's going to need to heal properly. So you want to look at your diet and try to eat as healthy as possible during that time. Now if you can parlay that into lifelong better dietary habits then that's great. You might as well; you've gone through the surgery you might as well benefit from it on that angle too.

Interviewer: Got you, so it sounds like if you ate healthy beforehand just continue your normal diet afterwards. If perhaps you didn't have the best diet beforehand that be a good time to reevaluate and maybe make some lifestyle changes.

Dr. Jeff Campsen: I think so; I think it's extremely important during the first month to eat healthy because again you have to have the right components in your diet to allow your body to then create a new abdominal wall, for lack of a better word. To heal that area that was, where the incision was made, and if you don't give your body that then you're not going to heal well, and then if you get an infection, a complication, a hernia it could be a result of that.

Interviewer: And what does it mean to eat well? I mean do you have to go all superstar diet, super clean foods, or...?

Dr. Jeff Campsen: No I don't think so. I think it comes down to you want to have a moderate amount of calories. So you want to look and see how tall you are and based on that how many calories you should have a day and try to stick within that, and then on top on that it needs to be balanced. You need to have the building blocks of protein and carbohydrates, but all sugars and no protein, and I think based on that and who you are going into the surgery your dietary requirements fluctuate a little bit, but again it's the basic food groups that go into it, and then moderation.

Interviewer: The stuff we've learned as kids.

Dr. Jeff Campsen: That's exactly right.

Interviewer: The stuff we all know but ignore when we go to the, you know, the fast food restaurants.

Dr. Jeff Campsen: Right. No I think the biggest thing is that everybody's intestines wake up at their own speed. It's whoever your body actually is at the time coupled with the type of surgery you have, and everybody's intestines will wake up, but if you move too quickly you can hurt yourself.

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updated: September 25, 2018
originally published: June 12, 2014