Crohn's disease is a chronic condition, and there is no known cure. Treatments aim to reduce symptoms and maintain remission as long as possible. Well-controlled Crohn's disease does not substantially restrict one's lifestyle. Treatments include medication, lifestyle changes and sometimes surgery.
Surgery for Crohn's disease is not a cure, but may be necessary for blockages of the intestine or other complications. Crohn's disease can cause narrowing of the intestines, fistulas (abnormal passages between organs) and blockages, and when those issues do not respond to drug treatments surgery may be required. Surgery may also be used when the disease is very severe and does not respond to treatment, since removing an affected section of bowel may reduce symptoms. Often, however, the disease returns near the site of surgery.
Abdominal surgery for Crohn's disease complications is similar to surgery for other intestinal ailments. Patents may undergo a strictureplasty (repair of a narrowed section of bowel), bowel resection (removal of a portion of damaged intestine) or other repairs. The goal is always to leave as much healthy intestine in place as possible, due to the potential side effects of removal.
Surgical treatments for Crohn's disease can be done either as an open surgery or laparoscopically, using small incisions and camera-guided instruments. Open surgeries are more common, but have longer recovery times due to a larger incision. Expect to spend approximately a week in the hospital following open surgery, and several more weeks at home resting and recovering. Many people are back to many of their usual work and leisure activities after 4 weeks.
While you are recovering, be prepared to have lots of quiet activities to do to prevent boredom and depression. Good preparation before surgery will reduce your stress afterwards, so make sure your bills are paid up and you have friends lined up to keep you company and assist with household tasks. You should also pre-stock your fridge with the soft, low residue foods that you will need after surgery. Low-residue foods are foods which are easy to digest and fairly low in fiber to minimize the work your intestines must do while they are healing.
Recovery takes its own pace for each person. To speed recovery, do not do any lifting, eat low-residue but nutritious foods, and start getting up and moving as soon as you are able. Light exercise (don't overdo it!) will improve your mental and physical health post-surgery.
Complications of surgery for Crohn's disease are similar to those for other bowel resection surgeries. Short bowel syndrome is a possibility if a large amount of small intestine must be removed. This condition leads to diarrhea, cramping, bloating and malnutrition due to the reduced absorption abilities of the shortened small intestine. Crohn's disease sufferers are already prone to nutrient absorption problems so it is very important to manage your diet well and discuss supplemental vitamins and minerals with your doctor.