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What is a Colotomy?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A colotomy is a surgical procedure in which an incision is made in the colon. This surgery can be performed for a variety of reasons, ranging from treatment of chronic disease to the need to take a biopsy sample. Colotomies are often performed by general surgeons, and they can be done in emergency settings as well as scheduled or elective ones.

This surgical procedure can be performed laparoscopically or as an open surgery. In a laparoscopic surgery, the surgeon makes a series of small incisions in the abdomen and uses these incisions to introduce tools along with a camera which can be used to see the surgical site. In open surgery, a large incision is made to expose the contents of the abdomen, allowing the surgeon to clearly visualize the area.

Colotomy surgeries are performed under general anesthesia. Surgery on the abdomen can be very traumatic, and general anesthesia is the most effective way to keep the patient comfortable and manage pain. Once the surgery is over, the patient will be taken into recovery and given pain management medications. A hospital stay of several days may be required after a colotomy to allow the patient to recover in an environment where monitoring is available. Once sent home, the patient may need several weeks of recovery.

Emergency settings in which a colotomy might be used include a situation in which a patient has swallowed something which needs to be removed, or a situation in which damage to the colon is suspected and a surgeon needs to perform exploratory surgery to find the damage. Colotomies can also be performed to resect the colon when a portion of the colon is removed, to take samples of tissue from the colon, and for various other reasons. In the case of a scheduled procedure, the patient will have ample opportunity to discuss the procedure and the potential outcomes with a surgeon. In an emergency, it may not be possible to go into great detail about the nature of the procedure.

A colotomy should not be confused with a colostomy. In a colostomy, an opening is created in the colon to create an outlet for feces. This procedure may create a temporary or permanent opening, depending on the patient's case. The opening connects to a colostomy bag which collects the feces as they drain. This procedure is often performed when a patient has severe colon or rectal cancer.

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.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By SZapper — On Sep 30, 2011

@indemnifyme - Glad everything turned out okay for your uncle, despite the lengthy recovery time.

I actually had a little cousin that had an emergency colotomy many years ago. He swallowed a small toy, and it was in danger of perforating his intestines if they didn't take it out. Obviously, it's a lot different to get surgery if you're not prepared for it, so the whole family was pretty freaked out. Luckily, he was fine. Although he wasn't interested in having the toy back after that.

By indemnifyme — On Sep 29, 2011

One of my uncles had to have a colotomy a few years ago. When they did some of his health screenings, they found something suspicious in that area. So they did a colotomy to take a biopsy. It ended up being nothing, thankfully.

But the article is correct, the recovery time was fairly lengthy. However, at least his scar wasn't very big. They did the procedure laparoscopically, so that was one good thing at least.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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