Small Bowel Resection

It can be a difficult and emotional experience to be told you need a small bowel resection. It can be difficult to process all of the information. You may be wondering what this means for your life, and what the surgery will entail. It’s important to gather as much information about the procedure as possible so that you’ll be prepared. Give yourself plenty of time to process your emotions as you prepare for surgery. 

Small Bowel Resection at UVA Health

Your doctor will talk to you about the different methods of surgical bowel resection. Depending on your unique needs, your doctor may choose an open, laparoscopic, or robotic procedure. You’ll also talk about preparing for the surgical procedure.

Before Surgery

You’ll be given specific instructions for what to eat and when to begin fasting before your procedure. Diets may include instructions to eat high-fiber foods and drink plenty of water or to stick to a clear fluid diet.

Whichever diet your doctor selects, it’s important you adhere to it exactly. This is for your safety during the surgery.

Your doctor will order tests before surgery. These tests may include:

  • Blood tests
  • Urine tests
  • Chest and abdominal X-ray
  • Abdominal CT

The Procedure 

Before the procedure, you’ll be given anesthesia. The anesthesiologist will come and talk to you about your medical history and evaluate your breathing beforehand. This lets them select the best medications for your safety and comfort.
Your surgical team will also talk to you about the specifics of your procedure and what to expect. 

  • Laparoscopic- A laparoscopic surgery is generally preferred as it reduces recovery time. For this procedure, your doctor will use a few small incisions instead of one large incision.
  • Open Incision- Depending on where your doctor needs to perform the resection, an open procedure may be better. This will use one larger incision, usually about 6-8” long.

Your surgeon will either connect the two ends of your intestines or create an ileostomy. An ileostomy is an opening, or stoma, in your stomach. This allows your intestine to empty into a sealed pouch outside of your body. If temporary, this pouch can be reversed in several months.


You’ll need to stay in the hospital for 5-7 days, depending on the reason for your procedure. Afterwards, you’ll stay until you can eat and use the bathroom.

Once you return home, you’ll need to follow your doctor’s instructions on when to return to normal activities. This includes:

  • Driving
  • Lifting
  • Showering
  • Taking a bath

Within a few weeks, you should feel up to resuming some of your usual activities. Within a few months, you should feel recovered.

The small bowel is roughly 20-30 feet long. Even with a small section removed, you’ll be surprised how well your body is able to adapt. That said, intestinal tissue is delicate, and it’s normal to have some GI upsets, like diarrhea for a while after surgery. 

When Should I Call My Doctor?

You should call your doctor whenever you have questions about activities, healing, or other concerns. They want your surgery to be successful and want to address your questions. But you need to call if you experience:

  • A high fever
  • Pain that can’t be managed with medication
  • Oozing from your incision
  • Inability to have a bowel movement
  • Nausea and vomiting