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Discharge Instructions for Abdominal Surgery

Abdominal surgery is done through an incision (cut) in your belly. It may take a few weeks or longer to heal from the surgery. Your recovery will depend on factors specific to your surgery, such as how it was done (open or laparoscopically, which uses a laparoscope). This sheet explains how to care for yourself once you’re home.


Here is what to expect:

  • You may be prescribed pain medicine. Don't wait until your pain becomes severe before taking the medicine. It may not work as well if you wait too long to take it between doses. Depending on which pain medicine you are given, you may not be able to drive safely.

  • Most surgeons prescribe stool softeners to prevent constipation. This is especially true if you get opioid prescriptions. Take these as prescribed. 

  • You may be given antibiotics to help treat or prevent infection. Take all the antibiotics even if you start to feel better.


Dietary tips include:

  • Follow any diet instructions given by your healthcare provider. You may need to start with liquids and then slowly add solid foods back into your diet. 

  • If you have constipation, your healthcare provider may tell you to add more fiber to your diet. You may also be told to use a laxative or stool softener. These can often be bought over the counter.

  • Drink lots of fluids.


Follow these guidelines:

  • Rest as often as needed.

  • Ask your healthcare provider when you can shower or bathe. Have someone nearby in case you need help.

  • Ask your family and friends to help with chores and errands.

  • Don’t mow the lawn, vacuum, or do any activities that use a lot of energy until your healthcare provider says it's OK.

  • Don't lift anything over 10 pounds until your healthcare provider says it's OK.

  • Don't drive until your healthcare provider says it’s OK.

  • Walk as often as you feel able.

  • Do the coughing and breathing exercises you were taught in the hospital. If you were given an incentive spirometer, an instrument to help with breathing, use it as directed. This is important and will help prevent lung infections. 

  • Ask your healthcare provider when you can go back to work.

  • If you are sexually active, talk with your healthcare provider about when it's OK to have sex again.

Incision and drain care

Do's and don'ts include the following:

  • Keep your incision clean and dry. It’s OK to gently wash the skin around your incision with mild soap and water.

  • If you have a dressing over your incision, change it as you were told. Replace the dressing if it becomes wet or dirty. In most cases, the dressing can be removed after 48 hours.

  • If you have wound closure strips or something similar, you may be told to leave them alone until they come off on their own. Don't pick or pull at them.

  • If you have a drain, record the amount of drainage daily. You may also need to empty the drain and clean the attached tubing daily. Check with your healthcare provider if you can get your drain wet or if it needs to stay dry at all times.

  • Don’t sit in a bathtub, pool, or hot tub until your incision is closed and any drains are taken out. Make sure your healthcare provider says it's OK.

  • When coughing or sneezing, hold a pillow firmly against your incision with both hands. This is called splinting. Doing this helps protect your incision. It also decreases belly discomfort.

  • Don't pick, scratch, or pull at your incision.

  • Don’t use oils or creams on your incision. Ask your healthcare provider before using lotions on your incision. This includes using a topical antibiotic ointment.


You will have 1 or more checkups with your healthcare provider. These are needed to check how well you’re healing. Your drain, stitches, or staples may also be removed during these visits.

When to call the healthcare provider

Call your healthcare provider right away if any of the following occur:

  • Fever of 100.4°F ( 38°C) or higher, or as advised by your healthcare provider

  • Chest pain or trouble breathing

  • Pain or tenderness in the leg

  • Increased pain, redness, swelling, bleeding, or foul-smelling drainage at the incision site

  • An incision that separates or comes apart

  • Problems with the drain if you have one

  • Pain or hardness in your belly that gets worse or isn’t eased by pain medicine

  • Nausea and vomiting that won’t go away

  • Diarrhea that lasts more than 3 days

  • Constipation or inability to pass gas for more than 3 days

  • Dark-colored or bloody urine

  • Bright red or dark black stools

  • Yellowish coloring of the skin or eyes

  • Itchy, swollen skin, or skin rash

Online Medical Reviewer: Jen Lehrer MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Raymond Kent Turley BSN MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Rita Sather RN
Date Last Reviewed: 3/1/2022
© 2000-2024 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.