Understanding Colostomies and Their Affects: A Guide

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Colostomies can be performed for a variety of reasons and can be quite a significant procedure for an individual to go through. Not only do they have to cope with bodily changes, but they need to learn how to live with a pouch either temporarily or long-term. It’s crucial that we all understand the procedure and how it can impact an individual mentally and physically. 

By educating others, stomas can become more normalized, so those who have to undergo these procedures aren’t ashamed or concerned about others’ reactions.

In this article, we are going to discuss understanding colostomies and their effects.

Let’s get started.

The procedure

Colostomies can be performed for many reasons, but all of them are because of an issue with the lower bowel. This could include but is not limited to a blockage, injury, Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome, or cancer.

The process of a colostomy involves a surgical procedure that brings one end of the large intestine out through the abdominal wall. This diverted colon creates a stoma, otherwise known as an opening in the skin where a pouch is attached for collecting feces. The procedure itself lasts around 2-3 hours, and the individual will be asleep during this time.

The recovery process does depend on the situation. Still, in most cases, the patient will be required to stay in the hospital for around 5-10 days so that any complications can be identified. 

The pouch

Once the pouch is attached, the patient will need to be informed of how to care for the stoma to prevent infection. This includes cleaning and caring for the skin, potential changes to watch for, and advice on any medications they may be taking.

The pouch itself is usually part of a two-piece system, which includes the flange and bag. It’s crucial that the patient knows where to get supplies and how to clean everything correctly. While a stoma is not classified as a wound, it still requires attention and can’t be left unattended by the patient. 

Maintenance and care

Once the pouch has been fitted by the healthcare workers, it’s essential that the patient learns how to empty, clean, and refit the system themselves—for example, learning how to use ostomy barrier rings to reduce skin irritation and how to change pouches. 

While the bag is designed for sturdiness, individuals will still need to be careful with pets, children, and even seatbelts as they may cause damage and burst the pouch. It may seem daunting, but the stoma itself does not have any sensitive nerves, so touching and cleaning the area isn’t painful. Some individuals describe it as feeling like the area inside your mouth, which is moist and soft in texture. 

An emergency kit with supplies should also be carried at all times, just in case of any accidents. This should include pouches, barrier rings, wipes, and flange extenders. Some previous stoma patients have also recommended carrying an extra change of clothes. Overall, the maintenance and care required are relatively straightforward, but it does take time to get used to it.


Every individual responds to certain foods differently, but in most cases, colostomy patients will still be able to enjoy their favorite meals, just with a few different alterations. For example, certain foods should be avoided to prevent irritation, including things like onion, carbonated drinks, broccoli, and beans (foods that cause gas). Over time they may be able to introduce things slowly to see their reaction, but it’s crucial this is done carefully and with small amounts. If a flare-up occurs, then it should be avoided.

It’s also advised that colostomy patients eat smaller meals more frequently throughout the day, rather than three large ones, and drink between 8-10 cups of water.

Sports and activities

Exercising and sports are still very possible for individuals that have had a colostomy; however, there are some precautions that need to be taken. Even the sturdy bags can be prone to leaks. Sit-ups or crunches should be avoided as there is a risk of causing a hernia, and walking rather than running is advised until the area has correctly healed. 

Swimming is also possible with a pouch, but individuals should make sure that it is securely sealed by testing it in a bath or shower first. Depending on what else has occurred during surgery, patients may also be advised to take things slowly first. Contact sports should also be avoided.

Possible complications

Just like most surgeries, there are always going to be some complications that can occur. With a colostomy, the most common things include leakage near the stoma from retraction, skin irritation, blockages, and hernias. While some of these can be fixed by trying out different bags and other tools, another surgery may be required to prevent further issues.  

Mental Health

Depression and anxiety are very serious issues that can occur in any health situation or significant surgery. By understanding it, you can continue to assist others by finding the correct support services to cope with this significant change. 

For colostomy patients, one of the main factors is a sense of shame over the procedure as well as the stress associated with a change in routine. Some find it challenging to remember to take care of the stoma while others spend their lives trying to hide it. However, it’s important that they are aware that they are still able to enjoy life’s activities, regardless of this addition.

Support services

Finally, as mentioned above, there are many support services out there that can assist patients with this new change. The United Ostomy Associations of America can help empower and advocate for people who have had/will have an ostomy surgery with their 300 affiliated support groups. If you are about to go through this process, it’s certainly something to be looked into.

And that’s it. By reading through the above, you can have a thorough understanding of colostomies and the impacts they can have on individuals. It certainly is a life-changing procedure that has helped millions of individuals all over the world.




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