What is an Ileostomy Reversal?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

An ileostomy reversal is a surgery performed to reconnect a section of small intestine to the large intestine, allowing a patient to evacuate feces through the anus instead of an artificial opening created in the abdomen. This procedure, as the name implies, reverses an ileostomy, a surgery where a section of small bowel is detached and used to create an opening through the abdomen for the drainage of feces, leaving the large bowel in place. Recovery time after the surgery varies, with several days in the hospital and weeks to months of adjustment at home.

An ileostomy reversal reconnects the large intestine (top) and small intestine following an ileostomy operation.
An ileostomy reversal reconnects the large intestine (top) and small intestine following an ileostomy operation.

Ileostomies are performed when the large bowel is so damaged that a patient is experiencing health problems. In some cases, allowing the large bowel to rest by temporarily diverting feces with an ileostomy is enough to address the inflammation and other damage, and the small bowel can be reconnected to the large bowel in an ileostomy reversal procedure once the patient has recovered. Patients may be alerted to this option when they discuss the initial ileostomy, with a caveat that complications may arise and make it impossible to reverse the original procedure.

Ileostomies are performed when patients have severe digestive issues.
Ileostomies are performed when patients have severe digestive issues.

Before the reversal can be performed, screening tests will be used to confirm that a patient is a good candidate for the procedure and to check for any complications and signs of concern. If everything looks good, the surgeon will schedule the procedure. While the patient is under general anesthesia, the surgeon will take the disconnected segment of small bowel and reconnect it to the large bowel. For several days, the patient will be monitored while recovering in a hospital setting. The patient may experience irregular bowel movements while the bowels recover.

A patient will be under general anesthesia while a surgeon performs an ileostomy reversal.
A patient will be under general anesthesia while a surgeon performs an ileostomy reversal.

At home after an ileostomy reversal, it is common for patients to experience bowel urgency and the need to defecate several times a day. This can occur for weeks or months while the bowel recovers from the surgery and the patient adjusts. Some patients may choose to wear pads or liners in their underwear in case of accidents, as it is common to have poor bowel control shortly after the procedure. Some patients recover control quickly and others may experience chronic problems. There is no way to predict how a patient's body will respond to the procedure and patients may want to consider talking with other people who have had ileostomy reversal surgeries to learn more about the range of symptoms they can expect.

An infected ileostomy closure may cause vomiting.
An infected ileostomy closure may cause vomiting.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


I just had this reversal done in December 2013. I am one of the lucky ones.

Diverticulosis and resulting sigmoid collectomy warranted the ileostomy. At six weeks to the day, I was healed enough for the takedown/reversa, and three weeks later, my wound is less than 3 cm. I have had zero infections, which is attributable to awesome docs and nursing care, as well as decent health otherwise going in.

"Going in," I had a complete bowel obstruction, and a resulting emergency room visit. A week later, I had the original resection and ileostomy surgery.


The difference between a colonoscopy, or an ileostomy is its location in the colon. If a portion of the ileum is brought to the surface as a stoma, it is termed an ileostomy, but if it is simply a portion of the colon, it is termed a colonoscopy.


I, of course, have heard of both ileostomies and colostomies, and know that they both involve a person having part of their bowel redirected to a pouch or bag outside of the body for collection of feces.

However, I am a little bit confused as to what the difference is between the terminologies. I mean, are ileostomy and colostomy interchangeable words, or are there specific differences between them?

I suppose it could be the actual section of bowel that is the deciding factor in which is used, but it really seems like it would all amount to the same thing to me; using a bag to collect bodily waste because the bowel isn’t working properly.


I know that an ileostomy reversal is possible, but I have heard that under certain circumstances it is a very difficult procedure to undertake.

For instance, my grandfather had to use a bag at one time, but he eventually was able to go back to using the bathroom normally after a reversal was completed.

However, when my mother recently had what was called a slipping hernia, she was told that she ran the risk of a lifelong ileostomy without hope of reversal as she waited on her surgeon to arrive for the operation.

You see, he was out of town and she had to wait the entire weekend to get the emergency surgery done. There was another doctor on duty, but she refused to allow him to work on her because of his poor reputation.

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