Why is the digestive system so sensitive after surgery?


Almost two years ago, I had a small bowel obstruction. It took forever for I could actually eat again because I projectile vomit anything I consumed via mouth. Why does it take the digestive system to start again after it is damaged or worked on? Why aren’t other bodily systems like this?

In: 18


Imagine if you were out playing and suddenly you tripped and got a really bad scrape on your knee. That would hurt, right? And it would take some time to heal. For a while, you wouldn’t be able to run or play as hard as you usually do, because your body is working hard to heal your knee. You might even feel a bit tired, because healing takes a lot of energy.

Well, when you have surgery, it’s kind of like getting a really, really big scrape, but on the inside of your body. Even though you can’t see it, your body has to work hard to heal. This can make you feel tired and sensitive.

Your digestive system is also sensitive after surgery for a couple of reasons.

First, many people have to fast, or not eat anything, before surgery. This means the digestive system isn’t working as much as usual. Then, after surgery, when you start eating again, it’s a bit like waking it up after a long nap – it takes a while to get going again.

Second, the medications used during surgery can affect your digestive system. For example, anesthesia (the medicine that makes you sleep during surgery) can slow down your digestive system. Pain medications can also make your digestive system work slower than usual.

That’s why doctors often recommend starting with easy-to-digest foods after surgery, like broth or gelatin. It’s kind of like warming up before you start playing again – it helps your digestive system get ready to work normally again.

So in short, your digestive system is sensitive after surgery because your body is working hard to heal, and because the medicines used during surgery can make your digestive system slower.

Before we had surgery and modern medicine, our body had to evolve to figure out the best way to try to keep it alive. Some of these methods are primitive (and not that effective) but it’s all our body had.

When your body is relaxed and functioning well, your digestive tract works normally. It’s digesting, absorbing food, making poop, and preparing to push out said poop.

When there is stress your body often slows down digestion so that it can send energy else where (your heart, brain, muscles). The more stress the more it shuts down your digestive system (temporarily).

If you got stabbed by a spear or bitten by a bear, your body does not have many options to try and heal. But one of those is to stop digestion. Especially if there is damage to your abdomen and intestines. Your body and intestines know, uh oh there is bad damage. Let’s say this spear tore your intestines. Well if the intestines keep moving food then digested material it will only leak more into the abdominal cavity ensuring death. If the intestines freeze, maybe the hole will only leak a little and your body can heal enough to survive. Obviously back in the day a tear in your gut was often a death sentence.

When you have surgery, your body does not know if it was shot with a gun, stabbed with a spear. It just knows it was damaged. And thus the intestines freeze. They play dead. And they wait to slowly try and wake up. But if they wake up and there still pain, it will freeze again and wait again for a later time.

With bowel obstruction it is similar. The intestine is blocked. When you eat it has no where to go. That food makes the intestine stretch and causes pain and nausea and vomiting. Your body knows it’s injured. It doesn’t know is it torn, blocked, stabbed, shot. Just that it’s not good. And thus your intestines freeze. Waiting to see if the pain goes away and that is a sign that the injury is healing and that the intestines can slowly wake up.

After surgery doctors encourage people to walk and move. Because walking and moving tells your body ok it’s not dying. And if sort of nudges your intestines that things are probably ok.