After your operation

Recovering from pancreatic surgery takes time and you will probably feel very weak after your operation. It may take several months to a year to fully recover. This will be different for each person.

When you wake up after surgery

You will be in the intensive care unit (ICU) or high dependency unit (HDU) for the first 24–48 hours. This is so that the nurses can monitor you closely.

Once the doctors are happy with how you are recovering, you will be moved to a ward. You may spend five to ten more days in hospital, or longer, depending on how you are recovering.

Some hospitals have enhanced recovery programmes which aim to get you eating, drinking and moving about as soon as possible after surgery. Your medical team will help you to sit out of bed and slowly get moving as soon as you are able to. Ask your medical team if they have an enhanced recovery programme.

Eating and drinking after surgery

For the first few hours after surgery you won’t be able to eat or drink anything. You will slowly start to drink and eat normally again, starting with drinks and then softer foods. Once you can manage this, you can slowly have more normal food.

You may be fed through a tube to begin with, or if you have problems eating normally. This gives your digestive system time to recover. The tube may go through your nose or through a small hole in your tummy. Not all hospitals use feeding tubes. If you have a leak where the pancreas, bile duct or stomach are joined to the small intestine you may need to have food into a vein (intravenously) for a few days.

You may see a dietitian after your surgery. They can give you advice on what to eat and how to maintain or put on weight. If you don’t have a dietitian your nurse can help you with this. There are no foods which you should totally avoid. You may need to eat smaller portions, and need more calories and protein to help you put on weight and recover. After surgery, most people need to take pancreatic enzymes to help them digest food. A dietitian or your nurse can help this.

Read more about diet and surgery

Diet and surgery

Going to the toilet

A thin tube called a catheter will be put in to drain your urine until you can get out of bed to use the toilet. Once you can do this, the catheter will be taken out.

Your bowels won’t start working normally for a few days. When they do you may have runny poo (diarrhoea), or constipation (when you find it harder to poo). But this should settle down. Constipation can also be caused by painkillers called opioids.

Your poo may also be pale, oily, smell horrible, and be hard to flush. This happens because the pancreas can’t produce enough enzymes to digest the fat in your food. You should be given pancreatic enzymes to help with this.

Your wound

You will have stitches or surgical staples closing the wound. These will be removed about 10–14 days after your operation. This may be done at hospital or at your GP surgery. The area around your wound may be sore for a few weeks, and may feel numb – this is normal.

There is a risk that your wound could become infected. If this happens, it may look swollen, red around the edges or may ooze a smelly, yellow liquid (pus). If you think it’s infected tell your GP. You should also let your specialist nurse know.

Published November 2021

Review date November 2023