Discharge Instructions for Abdominal Surgery

Abdominal surgery is done through an incision in your belly. It may take a few weeks or longer to heal from the surgery. This sheet gives instructions on how to care for yourself once you’re home.


Here is what to expect:

  • You may be prescribed pain medicine. Do not wait until your pain becomes severe before taking the medicine. It may not work as well if you wait too long to take it between doses.

  • Most surgeons prescribe stool softeners along with opioid prescriptions. Take these as prescribed. 

  • You may be prescribed antibiotics to help treat or prevent infection. Be sure to take all of the antibiotics even if you start to feel better.


Dietary tips include:

  • Follow any diet instructions given by your healthcare provider. You may need to start with liquids and then slowly add solid foods back into your diet. 

  • If you have constipation, your healthcare provider may tell you to add more fiber to your diet. You may also be told to use a laxative or stool softener. These can often be bought over the counter.

  • Drink plenty of fluids.


Recommendations include the following:

  • Rest as often as needed.

  • Ask your healthcare provider when you can shower or bathe. Have someone nearby in case you need help.

  • Ask your family and friends to help with chores and errands.

  • Don’t mow the lawn, vacuum, or do any strenuous activities for 4 to 6 weeks.

  • Avoid lifting anything over 10 pounds for 4 to 6 weeks.

  • Avoid driving until your healthcare provider says it’s OK.

  • Walk as often as you feel able.

  • Do the coughing and breathing exercises you were taught in the hospital. If you were given an incentive spirometer to help with breathing, use it as directed. This is important and will help prevent lung infections. 

  • Ask your healthcare provider when you can return to work.

Incision and drain care

Do's and don'ts include the following:

  • Keep your incision clean and dry. It’s OK to wash the skin around your incision with mild soap and water.

  • If you have a dressing over your incision, change it as you were told. Replace the dressing if it becomes wet or dirty. In most cases, the dressing can be removed after 48 hours.

  • If you have a drain, record the amount of drainage daily. You may also need to empty the drain and clean the attached tubing daily. Check with your healthcare provider if you can get your drain wet or if it needs to stay dry at all times.

  • Don’t sit in a bathtub, pool, or hot tub until your incision is closed and any drains are removed.

  • When coughing or sneezing, hold a pillow firmly against your incision with both hands. This is called “splinting.” Doing this helps protect your incision and decreases belly discomfort.

  • Avoid picking, scratching, or pulling at your incision.

  • Don’t use oils, or creams on your incision. Ask your healthcare provider before using lotions on your incision.


You will have one or more follow-up visits with your healthcare provider. These are needed to check how well you’re healing. Your drain, stitches, or staples may also be removed during these visits.

When to call the healthcare provider

Call your healthcare provider right away if you have any of the following:

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or as advised by your healthcare provider

  • Chest pain or trouble breathing

  • Pain or tenderness in the leg

  • Increased pain, redness, swelling, bleeding, or foul-smelling drainage at the incision site

  • Incision separates or comes apart

  • Problems with the drain if you have one

  • Pain or hardness in your belly that gets worse or isn’t relieved by pain medicine

  • Nausea and vomiting that won’t go away

  • Diarrhea that lasts more than 3 days

  • Constipation or inability to pass gas for more than 3 days

  • Dark-colored or bloody urine

  • Bright red or dark black stools

  • Itchy, swollen skin; skin rash