If you have recently undergone, or are about to have surgery on part of your digestive system, your doctor or surgeon may refer you to see a dietitian. People have operations on their digestive tract to repair a wound, or cut out cancers, lumps, diseased or damaged sections.

The digestive system consists of your mouth, oesophagus, stomach, pancreas, gallbladder and bowel. Any part of the digestive system can be operated on if need be.

Before surgery

Often your surgeon will require you to fast prior to surgery. This is to empty the digestive tract of food to make it easier to operate.

If you’re malnourished, your surgeon may want you to build up prior to surgery. All surgeries carry an element of risk, and being malnourished makes it more difficult for your body to heal after surgery. If you’re underweight, or you have lost weight rapidly over the past few months, it is a good idea to see a dietitian for a Nutrition Assessment to check that you are as nourished as possible prior to your surgery.

If you’re overweight, your surgeon may want you to lose weight prior to surgery. Being overweight can mean that there is a lot of body fat surrounding organs of the gastrointestinal system. This can make it more difficult for your surgeon to operate. Undertaking a nutritious, but rapid fat loss diet prescribed by your dietitian can make gastrointestinal surgery safer.

After surgery

After surgery you may find it difficult to eat. Your surgeon may put you on a special diet for a few days, a few weeks or even, a few months. Common post-surgery diets include ‘clear fluids’, fluid only diets, pureed foods, low fat diets, low fibre diets and low carbohydrate diets. Your doctor, surgeon or dietitian will advise you which type of diet is best for you, and when you can progress back to a normal diet again. Your dietitian will teach you how to meet all of your nutrition requirements whilst on your special post surgery diet.

Your body needs large amounts of protein, vitamins and minerals to build new cells and heal the cuts made during surgery. Even if you were healthy prior to surgery, you may need increased nutrition after surgery. Your dietitian will teach you what your unique requirements are and how to achieve them.

Sometimes the anaesthesia, medications and even the surgery itself can have an impact on your bowel motions, and it can take a few days to get them working properly again. Particularly if you have a poor appetite or are on a special diet, it can make it more difficult than usual to go to the toilet. You may need to speak to your dietitian about appropriate supplements to get your bowels moving again.