How to survive a bowel preparation

by Ellen Johnson and Lone Hummelshoj

Why do you need a bowel preparation?

In many instances, a complete “bowel prep” the night before surgery is required for endometriosis surgery. A bowel prep is also required for colonoscopy and sigmoidoscopy, procedures that are also often required of endometriosis patients whom the physicians suspect may have endmetriosis on the bowel. Complications can occur with an inadequate bowel prep, so you’ll want to make sure you follow your doctor’s directions precisely.

What it does

A “bowel prep” cleanses the bowel so that bowel surgery (if needed) can be performed safely. It usually includes a liquid diet and various preparations to empty your bowels. This is not a pleasant process, but is necessary if any bowel work is anticipated.

How to survive a bowel prep

Many of us have endured this process before you, and here is what we have learnt:

  1. Prepare yourself mentally! Decide you’re going to do it, and just do it!
  2. Eat lightly a couple of days before the bowel prep. Eat more fruit and green vegetables and reduce meat and dairy products. This will make it easier for your bowels to empty.
  3. Some find that the mixture tastes best ice cold. One way to cool it quickly is to put it in the sink with ice all around it.
  4. As soon as you have drunk the mixture, follow-up with something strong tasting, such as your favourite flavoured chewing gum, hard candy, or a spoonful of chicken broth to get the taste out of your mouth. Make sure whatever you follow-up with is on your physician’s list of “approved liquids”.
  5. At some point the mixture will begin to “work.” This may take some time. It seems to help things along if you drink approved liquids in between the “cocktails.” Liquids such as ginger ale, chicken broth, lemonade, apple juice, are usually the most appealing. Remember to check with your physician for a list of what liquids are allowed.
  6. Use baby wipes to wipe your bottom. Get the all-natural, alcohol-free, aloe vera, unscented version. These will really save your bottom once you begin going often.
    If you have a tendency to develop haemorrhoids, be sure to have a haemorrhoid cream on hand. It contains a little bit of “local anaesthesia” to ease the discomfort. You’ll be happy you did so!
  7. If you feel yourself getting sick after drinking the umpteenth glass, try holding a sachet pillow to your nose, or a handkerchief scented with your favourite perfume or essential oil. If other drinks are allowed (check with your physician), try a slice of fresh ginger in some boiling water (ginger helps relieve nausea).
  8. Prepare the bathroom for your ordeal. You will spending a lot of time in there! Clean it if you think the corner fuzz balls will make you crazy after a while. Make it cosy with a bunch of flowers or some nice candles.
  9. Stock up on your favourite, easy-to-read books and magazines. You will need something to pass the time away.
  10. Station yourself near the bathroom. Make yourself a little nest that’s within a short dash to the bathroom. Have near you the TV, your books and magazines, your bowel prep cocktail, other approved liquids, pillows, and blankets. The urge to go will strike suddenly and without much warning, so be prepared for this little adventure by doing some advance planning. And try to make sure you do not have to “share” the bathroom with others during this time.

NOTE: If any of these suggestions conflict with your physician’s advice, always go by what your physician says! And remember, if you have an adverse reaction to the bowel prep solution, call your physician immediately.

Good luck! And remember: many have gone before you and survived!

Potential bowel problems and solutions following surgery

This information is not meant to replace your physician’s advice. These tips represent our personal experiences and what has worked for us. If you have bowel problems after surgery, please contact your doctor right away

What to expect

A bowel prep and bowel surgery often wreak havoc on our digestive systems. You should expect that it will take a few days before your system starts to get back to normal. Rumbling noises from your stomach are to be expected. It doesn’t hurt, but can be a bit anti-social. You may also experience some flatulence and gas pains as the surgical gas moves through your system.

Diet

We’ve found that eating plenty of fibre along with yoghurt (with live acidophilus) and green vegetables helps get your system working again. We’ve also discovered that eating bread and cheese can make the situation worse since these foods tend to “stick” to the intestines and may cause constipation.

Supplements

Helpful supplements include Vitamin C (to support the immune system), zinc (to aid healing), and acidophilus tablets (to counteract the effects of anaesthesia and any antibiotics that may have been prescribed). Due to potential interactions with existing medications, you should always check with your doctor before taking any herbs or other nutritional supplements.

Nausea and bowel spasms

Some women have a problem with nausea and diarrhoea following surgery, especially if any part of the bowel was involved in the surgery. If this happens to you, contact your physician for appropriate medications. You may also want to avoid fruit juices and soft drinks after surgery since they contain high concentrations of sugar and have a tendency to increase bowel spasms. Dairy products and red meat also have a tendency to increase bowel spasms in susceptible individuals. Supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil, flax oil, borage oil, or evening primrose oil) encourage the production of “good prostaglandins,” which tend to act as a muscle relaxant and aid in healing. Always check with your doctor before taking any supplements.

Suggested reading

For healthy eating prior to and after surgery, see Dian Shepperson Mills’ and Michael Vernon’s excellent book Endometriosis: A key to healing through nutrition.

See also the article on Bowel Symptoms.

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