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Acid reflux surgery—also known as anti-reflux surgery or fundoplication—wraps the top of the stomach around the base of the esophagus, tightening the opening between the two. This helps keep burning stomach acid down below where it should be. It also decreases chest pain and nausea caused by the up-flow of stomach acid into throat. It can take a few months to recover and return to normal after acid reflux surgery. In the meantime, there are several things you can do to increase your comfort and encourage healing.
1. Walk it out.
Once you feel able to move around after acid reflux surgery, start some easy walks. Your surgeon inflated your stomach with air during surgery, and the best way to get rid of the leftover gas is through gentle movement. Walking can also prevent blood clots from forming in your legs, which is a dangerous surgical complication. Light movement also helps prevent constipation that post-surgical pain medicines can cause.
2. Practice good incision care.
Your surgery team will give you detailed instructions for how to care for the incisions in your chest and belly. Your doctor or nurse will likely tell you how to clean your incision, what bandages to use, when you can take a bath or get in a pool, and weight restrictions for what you can lift for a while. This is important because good incision care can minimize scarring and muscle tears, and help you stay infection-free after surgery.
3. Ramp up slowly to solids.
To protect your digestive tract after surgery, your care team will give you a detailed diet schedule and monitor your progress. You’ll start with only clear liquids like water and herbal tea for a day or two after surgery. Over the next several days and weeks, you’ll progress to “full” liquids, then to soft solid foods. Although you may want to dive into a juicy burger, have patience with the process of slowly returning to your favorite foods and drinks. This will allow your body to heal properly and prevent bloating and indigestion.
4. Ease off the gas.
One fairly common side effect of acid reflux surgery is difficulty belching, which can lead to a bloated stomach. To help reduce gas production after acid reflux surgery, cut back on carbonated beverages. Don’t eat foods that tend to produce gas—such as broccoli, beans, cabbage and onions. Your doctor may prescribe chewable simethicone and/or charcoal caplets to relieve gas symptoms. These symptoms tend to lessen over time.
5. Eat easy-to-swallow food.
Another common side effect for the first few months after acid reflux surgery is difficulty swallowing (dysphagia). Until the muscles between the bottom of your esophagus and the top of your stomach heal and strengthen, eat foods that are easier to swallow. These include soft, moist foods like yogurt, noodles, cooked and peeled vegetables, fresh peeled fruits, fish, and oatmeal. Try to avoid dry, tacky, or crunchy foods like peanut butter, bread, and bacon.
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6. Eat and drink slowly and often.
Several eating and drinking techniques can help keep you comfortable during recovery from acid reflux surgery. Before you eat, drink a warm liquid, such as water or tea, to relax and moisten your mouth and throat. Sit up straight whenever you eat or drink. Stay upright for 30 minutes after you eat or drink anything. Eat smaller amounts of food, several times per day so you don’t stretch your stomach too far. Eat very slowly, and chew all foods thoroughly.
7. Focus on staying hydrated.
One thing you can’t nearly have enough of after surgery is water. Drink several glasses of water per day to rehydrate after the physical effort of undergoing surgery. Water will also help prevent constipation the pain medicines can cause. Water can help you feel fuller when you can’t eat very much food. To avoid stressing your stomach, drink just one cup (8 ounces) of water at a time. And drink straight from the glass—without a straw—to limit the amount of gas in your stomach.
8. Rest—and be patient.
Any surgery you have will take up energy—especially when you have general anesthesia, as with acid reflux surgery. Although your doctor may green-light your return to many everyday activities soon after acid reflux surgery, take it slow. Your body is healing on the inside and the outside, and it needs rest and rejuvenation. Soon enough, you should feel better than ever—and get to celebrate with the foods and drinks you love.