Pope Francis recovering in hospital after undergoing intestinal surgery

The Pope underwent surgery at Rome's Gemelli hospital to treat a "recurrent and painful" constriction of the intestine

Pope Francis is recovering in hospital after he underwent intestinal surgery on Wednesday.

The Vatican said there were no complications after the three-hour surgery, during which Francis was under general anesthetic.

Francis, 86, is expected to remain at Rome's Gemelli hospital for several days, following the laparotomy procedure to treat a "recurrent, painful and worsening" constriction of the intestine.

A laparotomy involves making an incision across the abdomen, and usually means a three to five day stay in hospital and long recovery, according to the NHS.

The Vatican said, as a precaution, that all of the Pope's public receptions - known as papal audiences - have been cancelled up to Sunday, June 18.

"The stay at the health facility will last several days to allow for the normal post-operative course and full functional recovery," the Vatican said in a statement.

Francis remains in charge of the Vatican and the 1.3 billion strong Catholic Church, even while unconscious and in the hospital, according to canon law - a code of ecclesiastical laws governing the Catholic Church.

On Tuesday, the Pope visited Rome's Gemelli hospital for medical tests, but no details of these were made public.

Pope Francis attended his weekly general audience before undergoing the procedure on Wednesday. Credit: AP

The Pope appeared at his weekly general audience on Wednesday, and went to two meetings before heading to hospital, the Vatican said.

After celebrating his weekly general audience, Francis was driven in his Fiat 500 out of the Vatican, shortly after 11am (local time), and arrived at the Gemelli some 20 minutes later, escorted by police.

The Vatican said the Pope had been in increasing pain ahead of the surgery.

Dr Walter Longo, chief of colon and rectal surgery at Yale University School of Medicine, said leaving the pope's hernia untreated could have led to severe bowel problems.

"When you're older and not in great shape, you can get a hernia through the (surgical) incision," he said.

The Vatican said the Pope had been in increasing pain. Credit: PA

If not addressed, that could result in twisted intestines that cut off the blood supply to the bowel, ultimately leading to gangrene.

"They have to fix it, there's no other option," Dr Longo added.

The latest operation comes two years after he had 13 inches of his colon removed because of an inflammation and narrowing of the large intestine. Francis has also had part of one lung removed when he was younger.

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