Managing your Colostomy
What is irrigation?
For those of you who are unfamiliar with this technique, irrigation is a method of colostomy management which involves using specialist equipment to introduce warm water into the bowel via the stoma. The water causes muscular contractions (peristalsis) within the bowel which in turn cause expulsion of its contents. Many Ostomates prefer this method of colostomy management as it gives them a sense of control.
Although less than 5% of colostomates in the UK irrigate at present, the Colostomy Association is committed to raising awareness of this form of colostomy management.
Benefits of irrigation
- Suitable for those with an end colostomy who do not have ongoing bowel conditions e.g. Crohn’s disease, complications or heart or kidney conditions.
- Allows colostomates to decide when they wish to evacuate the bowel, thus restoring control.
- Can minimise the anxiety caused by altered body image. A small appliance (stoma cap or plug) is all that is needed to cover the stoma in between irrigations.
Hints and tips for irrigators
- For best results try to irrigate at regular intervals.
- Water should be neither too hot nor too cold.
- Do not use softened water for irrigating.
- Irrigation works best if you are relaxed. If you do not have much time or are uptight about anything, the water is often reluctant to go in.
Irrigating whilst abroad
- If the water is fit to drink it is suitable for irrigation.
- If you find when you go to a hot country that your irrigation doesn't work as well as at home, it could be because you are becoming dehydrated, so keep a water bottle with you and aim to drink the recommended two litres a day. If you don't, your colon will try to make up for the deficiency, in the same way that a camel economises on water.
- Take a coat hanger in your suitcase. It is ideal for hooking over a shower rail or onto window frames to hang up your water bag.
Video demonstation of irrigation by a colostomate in New Zealand
Coloplast's interactive guide to their irrigation and plug appliances
The Colostomy Association has a number of volunteers who are willing to discuss their experience of irrigation with colostomates who already irrigate or those who are considering this method of colostomy management. Please contact us on 0800 328 4257 if you would like to chat to an ostomate who irrigates.
Please remember that this procedure does not suit everyone and if a colostomate is not able, or decides not, to use this method it should not be regarded as a failure.
The consent of the surgeon, or Stoma Care Nurse, must be obtained prior to commencing irrigation, since with some medical conditions irrigation is inadvisable. The technique needs to be taught and first attempts should be supervised by a Stoma Care Nurse.