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What can I Expect After Esophagus Surgery?

By Amanda Dean
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Esophagus surgery may be completed to treat a number of diseases and conditions. The experience after surgery varies depending on the reason for treatment and the type of surgery conducted. Surgeries to treat gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) are often laproscopic, while procedures to remove cancerous tissues may remove large sections of tissue or the entire esophagus. The more invasive and extensive the surgery, the longer and more difficult the recovery process.

A procedure to remove cancerous tissue is the most invasive esophagus surgery. If the entire esophagus is removed, a new one will be constructed out of the stomach or other digestive tissue. This complicated procedure takes several hours to complete. If you have this surgery, you can expect to remain in the hospital for several weeks during the initial recovery. Once you leave the hospital, it may take up to three months to make a full recovery.

In the hospital, you can expect to wake up in a surgical intensive care unit (SICU). There, you will be connected to heart and oxygen monitors and carefully observed for abnormal reactions to the surgery. The stay at SICU usually lasts one or two days, until your condition has stabilized enough for you to return to a regular hospital unit.

During your hospital stay after esophagus surgery, you will likely have tubes and catheters placed in your body to help regulate your feeding and excretion. A nasogastric (NG) tube will be placed in your stomach via your nose. This tube helps to protect your stomach, esophagus, and bowels from bloating during recovery. The NG tube will remain in place for seven to ten days, during which time you will be fed via a jejunostomy tube (J-tube) that deposits nutrients into the small intestine. You may also have a chest tube, a chest drain, and a urinary catheter.

As your esophagus heals slowly after surgery, you will not be able to eat solid foods for quite some time. Once the NG tube has been removed, you may be placed on a liquid diet if you are capable of swallowing followed by a soft food diet. In order to supplement your food intake, the J-tube will be kept in place for the first few months of recovery from esophagus surgery.

You will also experience pain after portions of your esophagus have been removed to treat cancer. While in the hospital, you may be have a button to push that supplies analgesic medicine, or pain medications may be inserted in your J-tube. In some cases, a doctor may suggest an epidural to block pain sensations. Be sure to communicate your pain-related needs to your medical staff while recovering from esophagus surgery, as there is no way that they can monitor the experience of pain.

You will be asked to do some physical activity to help your body strengthen and recover. You may need to practice breathing exercises to keep the lungs at their maximum capacity. It may be uncomfortable to cough up secretions, but it is necessary to keep your lungs healthy after esophagus surgery. Your nurses may also recommend that you get out of bed and walk around your recovery unit regularly.

Minor cancer surgeries and procedures to correct GERD have a much shorter recovery time because they are usually conducted using laparoscopic techniques. The hospital stay following surgery is usually only one or two days, and total recovery takes two to three weeks. If this is the type of esophagus surgery that you have, you will probably not have a J-tube or an NG tube, but will only be able to eat soft foods during recovery. About nine out of ten people are relieved for GERD symptoms after this surgery.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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