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Discharge Instructions for Abdominal Surgery

Abdominal surgery is done through an incision in your abdomen. It may take a few weeks or longer to heal from the surgery. This sheet gives instructions on how to care for yourself once you’re home.

Woman holding a glass of water and putting a pill in her mouth while looking at the time on a clock.
Take all medications on schedule and as directed by your doctor.

Medications

  • You may be prescribed pain medication. Do not wait until your pain becomes severe before taking the medication. It may not work as well if you wait too long to take it between doses.

  • You may be prescribed antibiotics to help treat or prevent infection. Be sure to take all of the antibiotics even if you start to feel better. Most surgeons prescribe stool softeners along with opioid prescriptions. 

Diet

  • Follow any diet instructions given by your doctor. You may need to start with liquids and then slowly add solid foods back into your diet. 

  • If you have constipation, your doctor may tell you to add more fiber to your diet. You may also be told to use a laxative or stool softener. These can often be bought over the counter.

  • Drink plenty of fluids.

Activity

  • Rest as often as needed.

  • Ask your doctor when you can shower or bathe. Have someone nearby in case you need help.

  • Ask your family and friends to help with chores and errands.

  • Don’t mow the lawn, vacuum, or do any strenuous activities for 4 to 6 weeks.

  • Avoid lifting anything over 10 pounds for 4 to 6 weeks.

  • Avoid driving until your doctor says it’s OK.

  • Walk as often as you feel able.

  • Do the coughing and breathing exercises you were taught in the hospital. If you were given an incentive spirometer to help with breathing, use it as directed.

  • Ask your doctor when you can return to work.

Incision and drain care

  • Keep your incision clean and dry. It’s OK to wash the skin around your incision with mild soap and water.

  • If you have a dressing over your incision, change it as you were told. Replace the dressing if it becomes wet or dirty. In most cases, the dressing can be removed after 48 hours.

  • If you have a drain, record the amount of drainage daily. You may also need to empty the drain and clean the attached tubing daily. Check with your doctor if you can get your drain wet or if it needs to stay dry at all times.

  • Don’t sit in a bathtub, pool, or hot tub until your incision is closed and any drains are removed.

  • When coughing or sneezing, hold a pillow firmly against your incision with both hands. This is called “splinting.” Doing this helps protect your incision and decreases abdominal discomfort.

  • Avoid picking, scratching, or pulling at your incision.

  • Don’t use oils, or creams on your incision. Ask your doctor before using lotions on your incision.

Follow-up

You will have 1 or more follow-up visits with your doctor. These are needed to check how well you’re healing. Your drain, stitches, or staples may also be removed during these visits.

When to call the doctor

Call your doctor right away if you have any of the following:

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher

  • Chest pain or trouble breathing

  • Pain or tenderness in the leg

  • Increased pain, redness, swelling, bleeding, or foul-smelling drainage at the incision site; incision separates or comes apart

  • Problems with the drain if you have one

  • Pain or hardness in your abdomen that gets worse or isn’t relieved by pain medication

  • Nausea and vomiting that won’t go away

  • Diarrhea that lasts more than 3 days

  • Constipation or inability to pass gas for more than 3 days

  • Dark-colored or bloody urine

  • Bright red or dark black stools

  • Itchy, swollen skin; skin rash

Online Medical Reviewer: Larson, Kim, APRN, FNP
Online Medical Reviewer: MMI board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
Last Review Date: 3/30/2014
© 2000-2014 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.