Gastrectomy: Recovery

Gastrectomy surgery is a form of major abdominal surgery that will mean having both a short hospital stay and a longer recovery period at home. Most people will have restrictions on activity when first going home from the hospital.

The healthcare team will give instructions on pain management, diet, safe activity levels, and when it will be possible to return to work or school. The recovery from surgery will be gradual and it may take several weeks to safely get back to pre-surgery activity levels.

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Surgery Follow-Up

Most people will have a short hospital stay after having gastrectomy surgery. The length of the stay will depend on a number of factors, including why the gastrectomy was done, how much of the stomach was removed, and if there were any complications.

The average length of stay for laparoscopic surgery for a total gastrectomy is about 7 days. Upon being released from the hospital, the surgical team will go over a set of instructions on how to recover at home.

After gastrectomy surgery, patients can expect to have a follow-up appointment with their surgeon about a week later. This may be more or less depending on how well recovery is going and if there were any complications either in the hospital or later at home.

Patients might be able to make this appointment before leaving the hospital or may have to call the surgeon’s office upon arriving home. Driving so soon after surgery isn’t possible, therefore, a friend or family member will need to be available to drive to the appointment.

During the first office visit after the operation, the surgeon will want to look at the surgical site on the abdomen to see how it is healing. The surgeon will look for any signs of an infection.

If there were staples used to close the surgical wound, those are often removed during the first visit. Removing staples may be uncomfortable, so it’s important to make sure that there is a plan to manage pain before going to the appointment.

If the wound was closed with Steri-Strips or glue, they will fall off or loosen on their own or can be removed when the surgeon says it is safe to do so (usually around 10 days after surgery).

Follow-up with other physicians besides the surgeon may also be necessary. For those who have been diagnosed with stomach cancer, there may be a need to see an oncologist or other specialists.

Some patients may also wish to see a dietitian for help in determining an eating plan for the days and weeks after surgery and in learning if there is a need for vitamin supplements.

Recovery Timeline

Restrictions on activities in the first few weeks after surgery will be different for every person. However, some general guidelines are:

  • Eating small, frequent meals as instructed at discharge
  • Not lifting anything over 5 pounds for about six weeks
  • Don’t drive for at least three weeks (in some cases, this may be extended)
  • No baths in a tub until the surgeon says it’s OK (showers are fine)
  • Avoid strenuous exercise until discussing it with the surgeon
  • Avoid sexual intercourse until the surgeon says it’s OK

A return to work or school will be variable based on a number of different factors. In many cases, however, it will be about four to six weeks before going back to regular activities will be possible.

Consider starting back at a part-time or a reduced schedule, which is recommended to avoid becoming too fatigued. For those who have jobs that include strenuous activity, there may be different guidelines as to how to work towards building stamina back up to where it was prior to surgery. 

The most important thing to remember about a recovery timeline is to discuss everything with the surgical team and get answers about when resuming daily activities is possible.

If everything is not discussed either when leaving the hospital or at the first post-surgery appointment, making a call to the surgeon’s office or using the patient portal are good ways to get simple questions answered.

It might also be necessary to get a formal document from the surgeon in order to return to work. Check with an employer and the insurance company to find out if this is needed.

Coping With Recovery

Going home after surgery, most people will need some help for practical things, like grocery shopping, making meals, doing laundry, cleaning, and even showering. Having a family member or friend available to help with these everyday tasks will go a long way towards making recovery from surgery more comfortable.

It may be possible to have a visiting nurse service make a house call to attend to the surgical wound and other medical needs. Check with the insurance carrier to see what services may be available.

Pain management is an important part of the recovery from surgery. Patients will receive instructions about pain medications when leaving the hospital. The first post-surgery appointment is a good time to go over the pain management plan again, especially if pain levels are still high. It may be necessary to change the plan or to get refills of any prescription pain medications that are still needed.

Recovering from surgery is a long and involved process. It is common to deal with many different emotions about the disruption to one’s life and the changes that are needed. Some people may feel angry, sad, depressed, irritable, or nervous. These feelings are to be expected.

Talk to a member of the healthcare team right away if it becomes difficult to manage daily activities because of a feeling of being depressed or overwhelmed. There is help available in dealing with the emotions surrounding this major change and the adjustment period, which can include a mental health professional, a social worker, or nursing staff.

Wound Care

For open surgery, there will be a surgical wound that goes from the breastbone down to below the belly button. For laparoscopic surgery, there will be several small wounds.

The wound(s) might be closed with staples, Steri-Strips, or glue. Bandages over the wound should be changed at least once a day, or as spelled out in the discharge papers from the hospital. If the bandages become too wet because of drainage, they should be changed more often. 

When changing the bandages, it’s important to look at the surgical site and make sure it looks healthy and there isn’t an infection starting. Signs of an infection to watch for include:

  • An increase in pain 
  • Excessive drainage (pus)
  • Feeling generally unwell
  • Fever
  • Redness
  • Swelling

Call the surgeon’s office if there are any concerns about the appearance of the wound.

A Word From Verywell

The recovery from gastrectomy surgery will take several weeks and is a challenging time. Patients are not only coping with the physical aspects of having surgery such as pain and restrictions, but also the mental side of the diagnosis for which the surgery was done as well as a new way of life after healing.

It’s important to remember to give oneself time to adjust and to use the resources that are available from the healthcare team. Relying on family and friends during this time is also helpful and will make recovery easier to manage. 

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Article Sources
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  1. Małczak P, Pisarska M, Piotr M, Wysocki M, Budzyński A, Pędziwiatr M. Enhanced recovery after bariatric surgery: Systematic review and meta-analysis. Obes Surg.2017;27:226-235. doi:10.1007/s11695-016-2438-z.

  2. Endo S, Tsujinaka T, Fujitani K, et al. Risk factors for superficial incisional surgical site infection after gastrectomy: analysis of patients enrolled in a prospective randomized trial comparing skin closure methods. Gastric Cancer. 2016;19:639-644. doi:10.1007/s10120-015-0494-z.

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