Colorectal surgeons like Elizabeth Wood, MD treat a variety of conditions, from benign issues like hemhorroids and Inflammatory Bowel Disease to colon and rectal cancers.
Dr. Wood always looks for the least invasive surgical approach possible to minimize scarring, risk and recovery.
She encourages patients who are experiencing gastrointestinal symptoms to see a health care provider so they can get the treatment they need.
For many patients, gastrointestinal conditions can be managed with dietary changes, physical therapy and medication. But when surgery is necessary, an expert like Elizabeth Wood, MD can provide relief through minimally invasive techniques.
Dr. Wood is a colorectal surgeon at Regional One Health. Patients are typically referred to her by a primary care provider or gastroenterologist for treatment of a variety of conditions.
“Colorectal disease includes many conditions, ranging from benign to malignant,” she said. “We work closely with the patient’s gastroenterologist to try medications and other therapies first, but if that isn’t working and the patient needs an operation, I look to start with a minimally invasive laparoscopic or robotic approach, which minimizes scarring and makes for an easier recovery.”
She described some of the conditions she treats and what patients can expect.
If a patient is diagnosed with colon cancer, surgery may be the first line of treatment. “It’s based on the stage of the disease,” Dr. Wood explained. “We offer multidisciplinary care, and we walk our patients through all of their options.”
If the cancer has not spread beyond the colon, surgery to remove the cancerous polyp or section of the colon containing the tumor might be the only treatment needed.
Some patients have chemotherapy first to make their tumor operable, while others may require chemotherapy or radiation along with surgery to treat their illness.
With minimally invasive procedures, patients are typically in the hospital for two or three days, Dr. Wood said. For larger incisions, it’s normally five to seven days, or until the patient is able to eat and walk around on their own.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease
IBD, which includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, can often be controlled with lifestyle changes and medications. “We try to avoid operating when we can. These are lifelong diseases, and the patient may need surgery again, so we don’t want to remove portions of the bowel unless we have to,” Dr. Wood explained.
If a patient has a blockage, stricture (narrowing of the colon due to scar tissue) or fistula (sore or ulcer), surgery enters the picture.
“We use imaging to make sure we know exactly where the problem is, and we’re careful to only remove the diseased portion,” Dr. Wood said.
Pelvic Floor Dysfunction
Pelvic floor disorders occur when the muscles and connective tissue in the pelvis are injured or weak. They include fecal and urinary incontinence, organ prolapse and more.
Surgery is a last option, and many patients benefit from pelvic floor physical therapy, lifestyle changes, medication and other treatments. However, if a patient has rectal prolapse or rectocele – when the rectum pushes into the anal opening or vagina – surgery may be required.
“Seeing a specialist is important,” Dr. Wood said. “We do a focused exam and a deep dive into their symptoms to determine which treatment will benefit the patient the most.”
For patients with very large or painful hemorrhoids who don’t find relief from lifestyle changes and over-the-counter products, a hemorrhoidectomy may be the best option for long-term relief.
Patients are under local or general anesthesia, and the surgeon makes small incisions to remove the hemorrhoids. Patients usually go home the same day, Dr. Wood said.
Help is available
Dr. Wood noted these are conditions many patients don’t like to discuss, but she wants them to know it is important to get help for changes in bowel habits and colon health.
“If you have symptoms like constipation, leaking stool, blood in your stool or new stomach pain, it warrants a visit to the doctor,” she said. “We can help minimize your symptoms so they don’t interfere with your life, and that’s a victory for our patients.”