Colorectal Surgery: How to Prepare

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There are a number of surgeries the fall under colorectal surgery, and they are all very involved procedures that require an inpatient stay and a lot of pre-surgical preparation. Find out what you need to know to prepare for colorectal surgery.


Colorectal surgery is an inpatient procedure that will take place in a hospital. Plan on spending several days at the hospital, and possibly some additional time in a nursing or rehabilitation facility. Your healthcare provider may have you arrive a day or two early to prepare for surgery, or you may be asked to arrive on the day of the procedure.

What to Wear

It does not matter what you wear to the hospital, because you will be asked to change into a hospital gown once you arrive. You will wear a hospital gown for all or most of your time in the hospital. Plan on bringing a set of loose comfortable clothing for any therapy you might have, or to go home in when you are discharged.

Taking laxatives with clear liquids for bowel prep for surgery
PixelsEffect / E+ / Getty Images

Food and Drink

In the days before your surgery, your healthcare provider will prescribe you a very specific bowel regimen. The goal of the bowel regimen is to clear your colon and digestive tract for surgery. The solution will cause diarrhea and clear your bowels of any waste products that could interfere with your surgery or contribute to infection.

Plan to clear your schedule and be near a bathroom. You can anticipate frequent diarrhea throughout the day, as the solution and clear liquids are helping to clear your bowels before surgery.

Specific instructions may vary, but you can expect a regimen similar to the one described below:

  • Begin a clear liquid diet first thing in the morning on the day before your surgery. A clear liquid diet includes liquids that you can see through like water or clear broth—no cream soups, milk, milkshakes, or ice cream.
  • Do not eat any solid foods beyond this point.
  • Your surgeon may also prescribe you antibiotics to take the day before surgery. This is to help prevent infection.
  • Open the container of bowel prep provided to you by your surgeon. This is typically a polyethylene glycol electrolyte solution—also known as GoLytely or Miralax. These stimulant laxatives may be pre-mixed or require you to add water.
  • You should begin drinking this solution around 8 a.m. the morning before your surgery, repeating doses as ordered. You will likely be asked to finish the entire dose of the solution in about an hour.
  • After drinking the laxative solution, continue to drink clear fluids throughout the bowel cleansing process to avoid dehydration.
  • You may have a second dose of the laxative solution to drink later in the morning on the day before your surgery. Continue drinking clear liquids, as well.
  • Your surgeon will tell you when to stop drinking fluids—usually four to eight hours before your scheduled surgery.


Your surgeon will likely prescribe you a bowel prep regimen and antibiotics to take before surgery.

Before your surgery, your healthcare provider may discontinue certain medications or vitamins you take. Some medications, like aspirin, and even certain supplements can increase your risk of bleeding during surgery.

You should review your home medication list with your healthcare provider in the weeks before surgery and discuss what you should and should not continue taking.

Be sure to bring a list of your current medications, and when you took your last doses when you arrive at the hospital.

What to Bring

The hospital will provide most of what you need while you are in the hospital for surgery. You can bring toiletries, but these will also be provided. Some things you should be sure to bring include:

  • Two forms of identification
  • Your medical insurance card or information
  • A list of your home medications
  • Eyeglasses and a case—no contact lenses
  • Dentures or hearing aids and cases to store them in
  • Comfortable clothes to wear home
  • Something to read or do while you recover

It's best to leave valuables like jewelry or sentimental items at home or send them home with a family member.

Pre-Op Lifestyle Changes

There are a number of measures you can take before your surgery to have the best possible recovery. Some suggestions your surgeon might have include:

  • Eat healthy
  • Exercise
  • Stop smoking
  • Avoid drugs and alcohol

A Word From Verywell

The key message of preparation for colorectal surgery is health promotion. You should exercise and eat right so that your body is as healthy as possible before surgery. This will help you heal faster and avoid complications.

Always check with your healthcare provider for specific instructions before surgery. Be sure to closely follow bowel prep instructions—your surgery may be canceled if your bowels are not clear at the time of surgery.

1 Source
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. UCSF. Your guide to colorectal surgery.

By Rachael Zimlich, BSN, RN
Rachael is a freelance healthcare writer and critical care nurse based near Cleveland, Ohio.