Gastrectomy: Procedure, types, and recovery

Doctors may recommend gastrectomy as a treatment for stomach cancer, which is also called gastric cancer. The procedure can also treat diabetes, gastroparesis, and obesity.

After surgery, a person will digest foods differently, but they will still be able to eat and drink. It may take some time to recover and get used to a new diet and way of eating.

In this article, we look at the uses of gastrectomy, what to expect before, during, and after the procedure, and possible complications.

Types of gastrectomy

There are three main types of gastrectomy:

  • complete gastrectomy, in which the whole stomach is removed
  • partial gastrectomy, in which part of the stomach is removed
  • sleeve gastrectomy, in which part of the left side of the stomach is removed to reduce the organ’s size

The procedure will vary, depending on the health issue and personal factors.

Before the procedure, a person may need to restrict the diet, by fasting or avoiding certain foods.

A doctor may also recommend not taking some medications or supplements. Always follow the doctor’s instructions.

A person may feel more comfortable thinking about the surgery if are knowledgeable about what will happen. It may be a good idea to discuss the surgery and recovery in detail with the doctor.

Before a gastrectomy, a doctor usually performs routine tests, such as:

  • blood tests
  • urine tests
  • an electrocardiogram
  • a chest X-ray

They may perform additional tests to better understand the person’s condition. These may include:

  • upper (gastric-duodenal) endoscopy
  • an endoscopic ultrasound
  • a CT scan

What to expect after the procedure

A person can often consume any food or drink that does not cause discomfort unless a nurse or doctor tells them otherwise.

Speak with a doctor about which foods can be problematic. If some cause discomfort or loose bowel movements, remove them from the diet and reintroduce them after a few weeks.

Below are more tips for a quicker recovery:

Exercise. Keep moving, even in bed, to avoid problems like blood clots and muscle weakness. Rotate the feet, stretch the legs, and wiggle the toes to increase blood circulation and maintain muscle strength

Deep breathing. Lying in bed for long periods can lead to pneumonia. Deep breathing techniques can prevent this type of complication. After surgery, a doctor may give a person an inspirometer, which is a device designed to help with deep breathing.

Pain control. Communicate pain levels to medical staff. Managing pain successfully will help a person return to regular activities more quickly.

Avoid certain activities. Limit the amount of bathing and swimming, heavy lifting, and driving until a doctor recommends resuming them fully.

Typically, a medical professional removes stitches or clips within 7–10 days of surgery. After this, a person can slowly begin to return to regular activities.

After gastric surgery, a person often has to change their diet, because their stomach is smaller and may be less able to handle certain foods. Many people report being able to eat less, feeling full sooner, and having some digestive complications.

Speak with a doctor about the best foods to eat or avoid after surgery.

Some people experience nutritional deficiencies after gastrectomies. Medical professionals should monitor a person’s levels of:

  • vitamin B-12
  • iron
  • folate
  • calcium
  • vitamin D

The organization No Stomach for Cancer provides useful information for those who have had gastric surgery. See their blog for stories about living a full life after a gastrectomy.

Complications and side effects of surgery

According to No Stomach for Cancer, up to 75 percent of people who have had partial or total gastrectomies experience dumping syndrome, which occurs when food passes too quickly into the intestines.

Other complications of a gastrectomy can include:

  • acid reflux, or heartburn
  • nausea
  • meal-related distress
  • constipation
  • diarrhea
  • indigestion
  • afferent, or efferent, limb syndrome
  • Roux syndrome
  • abdominal pain

A person may also have difficulties getting enough nutrients. This can result in anemia, poor bone metabolism from a lack of calcium and vitamin D, and weight loss, potentially from poor absorption of micronutrients.

If a person feels any of the following symptoms after a gastrectomy, they should contact a doctor:

  • warmth or redness around the site of surgery
  • pus coming from the site
  • a fever of over 100.4ºF or 38ºC
  • inability to drink or keep down liquids
  • pain that is not improved by medication


A total or partial gastrectomy is an effective treatment for stomach cancer. It can also treat obesity.

Talk to a doctor about what to expect before, during, and after a gastrectomy.

Recovering from this surgery can take some time, but with the support of a medical team, most people go on to make a full recovery and lead regular lives.

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