What is a Colostomy?
Sometimes, for medical reasons, part of the large bowel (colon and rectum) has to be removed or bypassed. This means that bowel motions can no longer be passed out of the body through the anus in the usual way. Therefore an operation is performed to create a new opening on the front of the abdomen. The colon is brought out through the skin to form a colostomy. This new outlet is pink and moist like the inside of the mouth and is called a stoma.
A colostomy is one of three main types of stoma. People also commonly receive an ileostomy where the small intestine has been removed or bypassed, or an urostomy for the bladder.
Why do some people need a colostomy?
Most colostomies are formed because of cancer, but this is by no means the only reason. They can be the result of diverticulitis, perforated bowel, bowel obstruction, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, birth defects or accidental injury. In some cases, rather than to save life, the reason may be to improve the quality of life, for example in those who suffer from incontinence or chronic constipation, or have a spinal injury or MS.
Permanent of Temporary?
A colostomy may be formed to divert the motions away from the part of the bowel “downstream” from the stoma, to allow a join in the bowel or a diseased section to heal. If this is the case the colostomy may be temporary as it can be reversed (the two ends joined together) at a later date. If the whole bowel “downstream” from the stoma has been removed then a stoma will be permanent.
Life with a Colostomy
Bowel motions are passed out through the stoma and collected in a special disposable colostomy bag which fits over the stoma and sticks to the skin around it. These bags or pouches are about the size of your hand; there are many different types to choose from and they are available on prescription.
Before you go into hospital you will probably be introduced to a stoma care nurse who will explain what is to happen, discuss with you the best position for your stoma and answer any questions. After the operation she will teach you how to care for your colostomy and how to change your bag.
It takes a while to get used to a colostomy, but your confidence will increase with time as you learn when your colostomy is most likely to be active and you become quicker and more proficient at changing the bag.
There are other methods of managing a colostomy. Irrigation allows you to decide when you wish to evacuate the bowel. It involves using specialist equipment to introduce a measured amount of water into the colon. However, irrigation is not possible with some medical conditions or types of stoma so before the operation you may wish to ask your surgeon if this would be an option for you. The irrigation technique needs to be taught and the first attempts supervised by a stoma care nurse.
Before your surgery and during the early days after your operation it may help to speak to someone else with a colostomy. This can be arranged if you call the CA Freephone Helpline 0800 328 4257, or alternatively you can join us on Facebook.
Having a colostomy will not mean that you have to make significant changes to your lifestyle. Most people are able to eat the same foods as before; like everyone else you will be advised to eat regular well balanced meals. You should be able to wear similar clothes to those you wore before the operation.
There are people who have had colostomies for many years. They have led normal lives, had careers, have partners and children, take part in sport, and travel all over the world.
For information on how to obtain your supplies and prescribing guidelines please click here.