A gastrectomy is a serious operation and recovery can take a long time.
After the operation
After having a gastrectomy, you may be fitted with a nasogastric tube for about 48 hours. This is a thin tube that passes through your nose and down into your stomach or small intestine. This will allow fluids produced by your stomach to be regularly removed, which will stop you feeling sick.
Until you can eat and drink normally, nutrition will be supplied intravenously (through a tube inserted directly into a vein) or through a tube inserted through your abdomen (tummy) into your bowel. Most people can begin eating a light diet about a week after having a gastrectomy.
After the operation, you will need to take painkillers for a few days. Tell your treatment team if the painkillers you are taking do not work, because alternative painkillers are available. You will probably be able to return home one to two weeks after having a gastrectomy.
Adjusting to a new diet
Whatever type of gastrectomy you have, you will need to make changes to your diet. It may be months before you can return to a more normal diet. A dietitian should be able to help you with this adjustment.
Food or drink that you enjoyed before the operation may give you indigestion. You may find it helpful to keep a food diary to record the effects that certain types of food have on your digestion.
You will probably have to eat smaller meals more frequently for a fairly long time after having a gastrectomy. However, over time your remaining stomach and small intestine will stretch and you will gradually be able to eat larger, less frequent meals.
The Oesophageal Patients Association (OPA) have produced a guide to life after stomach surgery (PDF, 605kb), which contains lifestyle advice for people after they have had a gastrectomy.
Avoid eating high-fibre foods immediately after having a gastrectomy. They will make you feel uncomfortably full. High-fibre foods include:
- wholegrain bread, rice and pasta
- pulses, which are edible seeds that grow in a pod, such as peas, beans and lentils
- oats, found in some breakfast cereals
Over time you will be able to gradually increase the amount of fibre in your diet.
Vitamins and minerals
If you have had a partial gastrectomy, you may be able to get enough vitamins and minerals from your diet by eating foods that are high in these nutrients. In particular, eat foods that are high in calcium, iron, vitamin C and vitamin D.
If you have had a total gastrectomy, you may be unable to get enough iron, calcium, vitamin C and vitamin D from your diet, so you may require additional supplements.
Read about vitamins and minerals for information on foods that are high in these nutrients.
Some people who have had a partial gastrectomy, and most people who have had a total gastrectomy, need regular injections of vitamin B12. This vitamin is difficult to absorb from food if your stomach has been removed.
After a gastrectomy, you will need regular blood tests to check that you are getting the correct amount of vitamins and minerals in your diet. If you do not have the correct nutrition, you can develop problems such as anaemia.
Read more about the complications of gastrectomy.