As with all major operations, recovering from a pancreatic surgery takes time. Full recovery requires an average of two months. Depending on the type of operation you undergo, you will be admitted into the hospital for 1-3 weeks so that your medical team can monitor any post-operative complications. Some common complications include leakage from the various intestinal connections the surgeon makes during an operation, infection, and bleeding. These complications are typically managed with a combination of draining tubes and antibiotics. It is important to emphasize the necessity of choosing an experienced surgeon and treatment facility where these complications are significantly lower.
After pancreatic surgery, it is normal to have difficulty eating or to experience symptoms of nausea, vomiting or heartburn. These symptoms are caused by a condition known as "gastric ileus," or temporary paralysis of the stomach. It may take your digestive system anywhere from a few weeks to a few months to return to normal. However, there is no way to predict how quickly your stomach will regain full function, and patients must undergo a trial-and-error process as they attempt to resume normal eating. In some cases, patients find they must make permanent changes to their diet in order to alleviate symptoms of diarrhea, gas, and stomach pain. In situations where gastric ileus persists, a supplemental feeding tube can help to ensure the patient receives proper nutrients.
In general, when recovering from a pancreatic operation, the goal should be to eat small, frequent meals/snacks every three hours. Eat a protein containing food first each meal to minimize the amount of muscle mass you may lose. It is important to remember to drink fluids between meals to stay hydrated. Our clinical nutritionist has created a handout to help you anticipate what to expect after your surgery including food recommendations and some helpful tips for minimizing gastrointestinal upset.