Living with an Ostomy

What is an ostomy?

An ostomy is a surgical opening in the abdomen to remove your body's waste. A physician may perform an ostomy in patients who've had a portion of their large bowel removed or bypassed. It's also a common procedure for people who have Irritable Bowel Disease. An opening on the abdominal wall (a stoma) is created using a section of your intestine. An ileostomy is an ostemy for diseases of the small intestine or ileum and a colostomy is used to treat patients with a diseased large intestine or colon. Ostomies can be temporary or permanent.

How does life change following an ostomy?

Ostomy patients wear a pouch on their abdomen to collect stool—the natural waste left over after you digest your food. Fortunately, you can easily hide a pouch under your clothing. There are two types of pouches: a single-use pouch, which you change daily, or a two-piece, reusable pouch that you change every three to five days. Two-piece pouches include a protective barrier (or wafer). It attaches to your skin and holds the pouch in place. You should empty your pouch often, or when it's one-third to one-half full, to prevent leaking or bulging. Most pouches have built in odor barriers.

The most serious potential complication from an ostomy is a hernia, which causes the skin around the stoma to bulge and may cause a partial obstruction. See your physician immediately if you experience any changes or discomfort from your ostomy.

After your ostomy heals, you should be able to go back to work and do the activities you enjoyed before surgery, including resuming normal sexual relations.

During recovery, add new foods to your diet slowly and eat smaller portions as your body adjusts. Chew slowly to avoid ingesting air, drink extra fluids to keep your stools soft, and avoid foods that may block your intestines, such as seeds or kernels, and gas producing foods such as broccoli and cabbage.

When traveling, pack enough supplies and protect them from heat. If you'll be gone for a while, find a local physician at your destination in case you need medical care.