What is a Colectomy?

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  • Written By: D. Jeffress
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 17 April 2019
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A colectomy is a surgery performed to remove part or all of a patient's colon. The procedure may be necessary to treat colon cancer, irritable bowel syndrome, a ruptured colon, or any of a number of other conditions that cannot be managed with medication. A colectomy generally takes about three hours to perform and requires an extended hospital stay. The success rate is very high, though patients may need to adjust their diets or lifestyle habits to cope with changes to their intestinal tracts.

Total colectomies typically involve open surgery, in which a long cut is made in the lower abdomen to give the surgical team access to the intestines. Careful cuts are made to excise the colon while preserving surrounding tissue. Depending on the patient's age, preference, and other health conditions, surgeons may be able to connect a section of the small intestine to the anus so that future bowel movements are possible. Most patients, however, are fitted with temporary or permanent external colostomy bag.

In order to secure a colostomy bag, a surgeon forms a deep hole in the abdomen called a stoma. He or she attaches the remnants of the colon to the stoma so waste can be expelled directly, instead of traveling down the intestines to the anus. A patient who undergoes a total colectomy often needs to use the colostomy bag for life.


A skilled surgeon may be able to perform a partial colectomy without opening the entire abdominal cavity. Instead, several small incisions are made in what is called a laparoscopic procedure. A tiny, lighted camera is inserted though an opening to help the surgeon identify different sections of the colon. Precision surgical tools are manipulated through other incisions to excise pieces of the intestine. With the damaged section removed, the surgeon can mend the remaining pieces together, realign the colon in the body, and suture the abdominal incisions.

Following an open or laparoscopic colectomy, a patient can expect to spend several days in the hospital so doctors can monitor recovery. He or she is typically given pain medications, anti-inflammatory drugs, and antibiotics to combat post-surgical symptoms. Patients are often placed on soft food or liquid diets to give the intestine time to heal. Once bowel movements are possible or the efficacy of a colostomy procedure is confirmed, a patient is usually allowed to go home. Frequent checkups are important in the first few weeks following a colectomy to make sure the procedure was a success.


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Discuss this Article

Post 2

@ceilingcat - Yeah, it definitely sounds like the aftermath is worse than the actual procedure.

I am glad to hear that sometimes they are able to attach part of the small intestine so the patient can still have regular bowel movements.

I'm also amazed that they can do this type of procedure laparoscopically. I think that would be best as far as recovery time and scarring.

Post 1

I feel so bad for people who have to have a colectomy and end up having to use a colostomy bag for the rest of their lives. I especially sympathize with younger people that have to have this done.

I suppose it's better than dying of cancer, but I can't imagine having to live life with a bag attached to my stomach.

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