What Is GI Surgery? (Gastrointestinal Surgery)

If you have a medical condition which affects your digestive system, there is a chance that you might need surgery. In this blog, we look at gastrointestinal (GI) surgery; asking what it is, when it is needed, and assessing the risks.

What is GI surgery?

GI surgery is typically used as a treatment for diseases which affect body parts that are part of the digestive system, including; the stomach, oesophagus, large intestine, small intestine, gallbladder, rectum, pancreas and liver.

Surgical GI procedures can also be used to screen and diagnose digestive system issues.

When is GI surgery needed?

There is a wide range of conditions that can require treatment with with a GI surgeon. Let’s look at some of them:

  • Inflammatory bowel disease – inflammatory bowel diseases, such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, involve an attack on the intestines by the immune system, which causes inflammation and pain. This leads to intestinal damage and can require surgery to remove damaged parts and reconnect other parts which are healthy (a bowel resection).
  • Hernia – this is when the intestine protrudes through a hole in the abdominal wall, sometimes causing a noticeable bulge. Hernias may or may not hurt, and hernia treatment often requires a fairly straightforward form of GI surgery, which would usually take the form of a laparoscopic repair, or open surgery, to fix the weak spot.
  • Appendicitis – this is when the appendix becomes inflamed and infected. It can be removed with an appendectomy.
  • Gastrointestinal cancers – when cancerous tumours develop within the digestive system, GI surgery can be used to remove them, along with parts which have cancer – the liver or pancreas, for example.
  • Weight loss – there are some forms of Gi surgery, such as bariatric surgery, which can be performed to treat obesity. This procedure is usually undertaken by a specialist.
  • Rectal prolapse – surgery to treat rectal prolapse – a condition which involves the intestine protruding through the anus – involves an incision being made before the rectum is pulled back in place and a mesh sling or suture anchors the rectum to the pelvis’s back wall.
  • Acid reflux – acid reflux, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), is a condition which involves stomach acid coming up the food pipe (oesophagus), and this can lead to heartburn. The condition can be fixed with a type of surgery known as a fundoplication, in which the surgeon wraps the top section of the stomach around the oesophagus in order to strengthen the sphincter and keep acid out.
  • Gallbladder disease – when there are problems in the gallbladder, such as gallstones, one treatment option is to have the gallbladder removed via surgery. Gallbladder removal is also known as a cholecystectomy.

What are the risks of GI Surgery?

In general, the risks of GI surgery are those which apply to the majority of surgical procedures, including infection, as whenever the body is opened up there is a chance that an infection could enter. This is generally a very small risk, as surgeons and their team have a number of processes in place to ensure that tools are clean and sterile.

Recovery from GI Surgery

The length of your recovery following GI surgery will depend on the type of procedure which was undergone, and how invasive it was. As a rule of thumb, more invasive surgeries take longer to heal from, and you are likely to need support managing the pain, as well as a rehabilitation programme to expedite your recovery.

If you have any concerns relating to the risks of or recovery from GI surgery or have a more general query pertaining to any GI procedure, you should talk with your GI surgeon or doctor.