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Bowel surgery

This section contains answers to frequently asked questions about this topic. Questions have been suggested by health professionals, website feedback and requests via email.

Will I be able to eat normally after having bowel surgery?


Generally, yes. You will usually be seen by a dietitian after your operation who will advise you about what you should or shouldn't eat. Some foods may affect your bowel movements and it may take a few months for them to get back to normal.


After any kind of bowel surgery, some foods may give you more problems than others. For example, if you eat high-fibre foods, such as fruit and vegetables, you may get diarrhoea. If this happens, it's important to make sure you drink enough fluids, so you don't become dehydrated. You may also find you have more wind than before, which can build up in your abdomen and cause pain. Your doctor may suggest you drink peppermint water or take charcoal tablets to help relieve your symptoms. Always read the patient information leaflet that comes with your medicine and if you have any questions, ask your pharmacist for advice.

Sometimes it can take months for your bowel movements to get back to normal after your surgery. Different foods affect people in different ways, so you will need to be patient in finding out which ones affect you and which ones don't. If your bowel movements don't seem to be returning to normal, see your dietitian or doctor for advice.

Will I be able to have a normal sex life after bowel surgery?


There is usually no reason why you can’t have a normal sex life after your operation. However, it's possible that you may experience problems if the nerves to your sexual organs have been damaged during surgery.


When you have surgery near your rectum it may cause damage to your pelvic nerves. If you’re a man, you may have erection or ejaculation problems. If you’re a woman, sexual intercourse may be painful because of the narrowing and shortening of your vagina. There are medicines that can help, so talk to your doctor if you’re experiencing problems.

With other types of bowel surgery there isn't usually any medical reason why you shouldn't be able to enjoy a normal sex life. However, if you have large scars or a colostomy (or ileostomy) bag, you may feel self-conscious about having sex. Speak to your doctor if you’re finding it difficult to resume a normal sex life after your surgery. Talking to a counsellor may also help.

How will a colostomy or ileostomy bag affect my life?


Having a colostomy or ileostomy bag shouldn't stop you living a normal life. It may, however, have an impact on your body image.


When you're in hospital, your nurses will care for your stoma and make sure your colostomy or ileostomy bag is emptied as often as you need. You will also be in contact with a specialist stoma nurse who will be able to advise you on what to eat and how to look after your stoma.

When you’re feeling well enough, you will be shown how to clean your stoma and change your bag. Once you've left hospital, you will be able to get a supply of new bags on prescription from your chemist, through a mail order company or an online supplier. The bags are all designed to fit discreetly under your clothing, are easy to change, leak-proof and odour-tight.

At first, you may feel upset or self-conscious about having a stoma and will need time to come to terms with your altered body image. Your stoma nurse will be able to provide you with advice on how your stoma can fit in with your day-to-day activities.

See Related topics for more information about stoma care.


Produced by Krysta Munford, Bupa Health Information Team, July 2012.

For our main content on this topic, see Information.

For sources and links to further information, see Resources.

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  • This information was published by Bupa's Health Information Team and is based on reputable sources of medical evidence. It has been reviewed by appropriate medical or clinical professionals. Photos are only for illustrative purposes and do not reflect every presentation of a condition. The content is intended only for general information and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional. For more details on how we produce our content and its sources, visit the about our health information page.

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