For most people with Crohn's disease, medicine is used first.
However, for people with more serious problems or in people who
do not do well with medicine, surgery may be an option.
More than half of people with Crohn's disease will benefit from
surgery at some point in their lives. Surgery can help to keep
symptoms away longer, sometimes giving many years with no
symptoms. Some people can stop taking daily medicine for Crohn's
disease altogether. Surgery does not cure Crohn's disease
however, as symptoms may return somewhere else in the intestine
There are several different types of surgery for Crohn's
disease. Your doctor will tell you which surgery is best for you
based on the type of problem, your illness, and the part of the
digestive system that is affected. He or she may suggest that
you wait until you are a bit older until you have the surgery.
The most common types of surgery used in people with Crohn's
disease are described below.
What are the common types of surgery for Crohn's disease?
Colectomy or proctolectomy:
Complete removal of the colon and/or rectum. Some people with
severe Crohn's disease need to have the entire colon taken out.
If the rectum is not affected, it may be possible to join the
end of the small intestine (called the ileum) to the rectum to
allow the person to pass stools (poo) normally. If the rectum is
also removed, an opening (called a stoma) is usually created in
the belly for waste to be taken out of the small intestine
(called an ileostomy). A bag must be worn on the belly to catch
the waste. The stoma is usually made in the right lower abdomen
near the belt line.
If you have an infected mass filled with pus which is tender to
the touch (called an abscess), it may need to be drained with a
needle. The doctor will use an echography or a CT scan to guide
the needle to the right place.
Meeting with the surgeon
Deciding to have surgery can be very difficult. If you are
feeling scared or worried about having surgery, it may help to
know what will happen, both before and afterwards. Sometimes it
is helpful to meet other people who have already had the same
surgery because they can tell you about it. When you visit the
surgeon, you can ask any questions you may have. In this
meeting, you will have a chance to meet the surgeon and talk
about what will happen and what you should do to get ready.
Some people fear surgery so much that they put if off for years
or even tell their doctor they are feeling well when they
really aren't. This can lead to more needless pain and could
stop you from getting in control of your Crohn's disease more
quickly. Surgery can give ongoing relief from symptoms and may
even help you stop taking your daily medicine. Also, surgery may
be your best chance of getting better and help get you back to
doing the things you did before you got sick.
To help you get ready for your visit with the surgeon, you may
want to prepare a list of questions you want to ask him or her.
The next activity will help you do that.
Questions to ask your surgeon - parent-child activity
Here are a few example questions that you may want to ask your
surgeon when you have your visit.
Click here to download a
PDF version from EFCCA website. Then, at the end of the list,
add in any other questions you want to ask.
What are the good and bad parts about having this surgery?
Now that we have decided to have the surgery, will I have to
wait a long time or will it happen right away?
How long will it take after the surgery for me to start
Will I be able to do everything I could before the surgery?
Is there anything else I should think about before I have
Can I do anything to prepare for the surgery?
Are there any support groups in the area where I and my
family can find help, maybe from other people who have had
Before and after surgery - top tips
Here are some things to think about to help you get ready for
your surgery and in the time right after your surgery.
Before the surgery, your doctor may tell you that you need
to build up your nutrition. He or she should give you and your
family instructions for how to do this.
Allow others to help you, even with the simplest of tasks.
If you need help carrying the groceries or lifting something
heavy, ask for help. Most likely, family and friends will want
to help but may not always know what you need them to do and
would appreciate your telling them.
You may want to talk about some other points on your return
home after surgery.
Once you get the clear signal from your doctor, try to start
moving around again. This will help to get your bowels active
again, and also help you feel better. Start gradually and don't
push yourself to do too much too soon.
Your doctor may place you on daily medicine after surgery to
help keep you symptom-free for longer (called maintenance
Make sure you understand your dose and how often to take the
medicine, and whether to take it with/without food or at a
certain time in the day (eg, just before bedtime).
If your ileum (lower part of the small intestine) is
removed, you may have bile salt diarrhoea. If your colon is
removed, you may have diarrhoea because your body cannot absorb
salts and water as usual. Talk to your doctor or nurse about
what to do if this happens.
You may wish also to talk to your doctor about other changes
you and your family can make in your daily lives to help you
take good care of yourself.