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Bowel dysfunction after surgery

25 March 2021
Volume 30 · Issue 6


The functions of the lower parts of the bowel, namely the colon and rectum, are predominantly the absorption of fluids and elimination of faeces and flatus. Bowel surgery may be carried out in the treatment of colorectal cancer, inflammatory bowel disease or diverticular disease, and may involve the formation of a permanent or temporary stoma. The type of colorectal surgery carried out depends on the condition and where the problem occurs. Surgery can alter not only the bowel's anatomy but also its functioning. Bowel dysfunction can manifest as constipation, faecal incontinence or diarrhoea. Nurses are well placed to assist patients to resolve many of these problems as well as stoma issues.

Caring for people with bowel dysfunction can be complicated as well as expensive. The Bowel Interest Group (2020) reported that more than £160 000 000 was spent treating people with constipation in the UK in 1 year, and constipation is just one type of bowel dysfunction. Bowel dysfunction can occur for many reasons and is common in the general population, but is more often reported by people after colorectal surgery (Sperber et al, 2020).

The function of the gastrointestinal tract is to ingest and digest food and fluids, absorb nutrients and eliminate any waste products (Tortora and Derrickson, 2014). Ingestion generally occurs via the mouth. Digestion occurs in the stomach and upper small bowel. Absorption occurs mainly in the small bowel where several litres of ingested and secreted fluids are absorbed. The nutrients from the diet are absorbed into the bloodstream and lymphatic system to be used within the body.

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