Surgery to reverse a temporary colostomy or ileostomy (reconnection of the bowel) can be is a relatively minor procedure, but not all colostomies or ileostomies can be reversed. Deciding when to do the reversal depends on a number of factors including how well the patient has healed after their initial surgery and how fully they have recovered from other treatments like chemotherapy or radiotherapy. Sometimes reversals can be done after a matter of weeks (usually 12 weeks after surgery) while in other cases it takes much longer –sometimes up to several years.
After surgery, patients stay in hospital until their bowel begins to function again. This may happen after a few days but can take longer.
Once the bowel has started working again many people experience problems with constipation or diarrhoea and face what may be a long process of restoring their eating and bowel habits. Occasionally, complications such as adhesions (a build-up of scar tissue) mean that the reversal operation proves impossible and the stoma must become permanent.
Everyone who discussed their reversal operation had looked forward to it because it meant they would be free of their stoma. One man said he “couldn’t wait to get into hospital” and came out “smiling like a basket of chips”. Even people who were anxious at the thought of further surgery looked forward to having their colostomy or ileostomy reversed.
Several people were surprised and disappointed at how long it took for their bowel to start functioning again after surgery. One man was expecting a hospital stay of 2 or 3 days but found that it was 10 days before he could be discharged. Another man waited half that time but still considered it to be “an eternity”.
Many people had difficulty with their eating and bowel habits after their reversal operations. Some began to experience chronic constipation or diarrhoea. Reintroducing foods gradually over time on a trial and error basis was the usual way forward, though for some problems persisted. One man describes the terrible attacks of diarrhoea he suffered when his bowel began to work again:
Describes the attacks of diarrhoea he experienced after his ileostomy was reversed.
Several people had suffered complications that meant that their stomas could not be reversed. One man describes his initial reaction when his reversal proved impossible, and explains how he quickly came to accept the situation. A sympathetic visit from his surgeon after the failed operation helped him immensely.
Describes his initial disappointment at finding his colostomy could not be reversed and his…
A sympathetic visit from his surgeon helped him after the attempt to reverse his colostomy failed.
For more on restoring eating and bowel habits see Eating and bowel habit after bowel cancer surgery.