Living with an Ostomy
When your body can't get rid of waste in the normal way, you may need an ostomy. This
can happen because of a disease or a medical procedure. An ostomy is an opening that
is created surgically somewhere on the body to help get rid of stool or urine. The
waste is collected in a removable bag, called a pouch. The pouch is on the outside
of the body and can be emptied as needed.
Ostomies often get confused with stomas, but they are different medical terms. Ostomy
means the opening itself. Stoma refers to the end of the ureter or bowel that often
has to extend slightly through the ostomy in order for urine or feces to leave the
Ostomies come in many different types. The most common is a colostomy, when part of
the colon or rectum needs to be removed. In this procedure, an opening is made in
the abdominal wall. A remaining part of bowel is connected to it for the stool. Colostomies
can be temporary or permanent. They have subtypes, depending on where the colostomy
is made. These include sigmoid or descending, transverse, loop, and ascending. An
ileostomy is a similar type of procedure done on the ileum. The ileum is part of the
All ostomies include a pouch and a wafer that helps protect the skin from irritation.
The challenges of an ostomy
When you have to undergo an ostomy, you may face a number of complex lifestyle challenges.
Your concerns may be about the health and hygiene issues of caring for yourself. But
you'll also have emotional and psychological concerns.
It's vital to understand how to remove waste from the pouch and how keep the ostomy
clean and infection-free. After the ostomy is done, your healthcare provider and an
ostomy nurse will take you through the process. You should learn the steps as soon
as possible, so you'll know how to protect yourself. Regular waste removal, cleaning,
and maintenance of the ostomy and ostomy pouch will help prevent accidents and embarrassment.
This will also safeguard your health.
Emotional and psychological issues may be harder to deal with. Different people will
react to the ostomy in different ways. Some people will do fine, but others may enter
a phase of denial, in which they don't acknowledge its existence. Still others may
become depressed. Joining a support group or online association of other people who
have an ostomy can greatly relieve the isolation and unhappiness you may feel at first.
Although having an ostomy can be difficult to accept, it's important to work closely
with your healthcare team. That way, your healthcare providers can tell you about
the changes happening to your body and how the ostomy will change (and not change)
your daily life. People who undergo an ostomy may find that they don't need to tell
many people about it. They just keep it to themselves. Depending on how close you
feel to specific people, you can choose what's appropriate to share and what not to
An ostomy is a medical need that may be hard to adjust to at first. With the help
of support groups, counselors, and your primary healthcare team, you can make the
transition to living with an ostomy and get back to a full, active life.