Ostomy: What is a stoma?

A stoma is formed by a surgical procedure where either your small intestine (ileum) or large intestine (colon) is brought out to the skin of your abdomen. A stoma is created for the purpose of removing disease or relieving symptoms including pain. Waste will not leave your body through the stoma. A pouching system, made up of a barrier that attaches to the skin around your stoma and a pouch, which collects waste, and is attached to the barrier.

what is a stoma 

Surgery, Care and Products

If you are facing stoma surgery, you are probably going through a well of emotions. What does it mean to have a stoma? How will life change? How do I share the news with my family and friends? The idea of having a stoma may take some getting used to and it's only natural to be looking for information and advice as you are preparing yourself for life with a stoma. In this article, we address all the common questions about stomas, how it connects to your digestive system and what happens after your surgery.

Who needs a stoma?

The following diseases and conditions can cause the need for an ostomy operation:

  • Inflammatory bowel disease

  • Crohn's disease

  • Colorectal cancer

  • Bowel cancer

  • Rectal cancer

  • Ulcerative colitis

  • Any critical issues with your digestive system or a diseased bowel can cause the need to have your bowel removed, this may also be from a birth deficiency

The need for an ostomy procedure can occur at any age and does not lower life expectancy. An ostomy doesn't require medicine or other pain relief after you have recovered from surgery. Most often, stoma surgery will be planned in advance, so you have time to prepare for the procedure, and can talk everything through with your doctor or surgeon. However, in fewer cases, it will be an emergency surgery if your condition is critical and ostomy surgery can be a life-saving procedure.

Do you need a permanent or temporary stoma?

Your stoma can be temporary or permanent, depending on your condition. A temporary stoma can give your bowel the necessary rest and restitution to recover from a damaging condition or critical illness. When stoma surgery is a temporary measure to relieve pain, you will most likely have a new surgery scheduled 3-12 months later to rejoin the bowel. A permanent stoma is necessary when part of the colon has been removed and the bowel cannot be rejoined.

what does a stoma look and feel like 

How does a stoma look and feel?

A stoma is usually moist and pinkish-red because it is a mucous membrane, just like the mucous membrane inside your mouth. After surgery, your stoma may be dark red and quite swollen to begin with but will reduce in size over time – usually after six to eight weeks. The stoma usually sits on the left side of your abdomen, below your waist. However, it will depend on the section of your colon that's been removed. Prior to your surgery, you will have a consultation with a stoma nurse or your surgeon during which you can discuss the placement of your stoma.

There is no sensation in the stoma so it is not painful to touch. The stoma can bleed a little when you clean it, especially in the beginning, but this is quite normal, and should stop shortly afterwards.

Understanding your digestive system and your urinary system

If you are preparing for a stoma surgery, it's good have basic knowledge on your digestive system and urinary system. Understanding how food and liquid is digested in your intestines can help you understand how your stoma works. A colostomy and ileostomy work within your digestive system, while a urostomy works within your urinary system.

understanding your digestive and urinary system

Your digestive system

The stomach

When you eat, the food travels down a long, narrow tube called the food pipe into your stomach. Here, the food is churned into smaller pieces and your digestive juices turn it into liquid.

The small bowel

The journey continues as the contents of your stomach move into the small bowel (ileum), where digestion finishes. Your body absorbs the nutrients it needs for energy, growth and building new cells and channels these into the bloodstream.

The large bowel

When all nutrition has been absorbed, the remains move into the large bowel (colon), where your body absorbs more fluid to make the waste more solid. The muscles in your colon wall then push any waste forward into your rectum, where it passes out of your body through your anus, with the aid of the sphincter muscles, as stool.

Your urinary system

Urine is made by your kidneys and travels down two tubes called the ureters to your bladder. Urine is produced all the time, but it is stored in your bladder until you get a sense that you need to urinate. The urine then passes out of your body through the urethra.

three types of ostomies

If you have an ostomy, you can try our BodyCheck tool to ensure optimal fit between your body and your pouch system.

What are the different types of colostomy, ileostomy and urostomy?

There are three different types of ostomy procedures: Colostomy, ileostomy and urostomy. The type of colostomy and ileostomy that is relevant for each patient, depends on their condition. The different types of ostomy surgery are:

  • Loop colostomy

  • End colostomy

  • Loop ileostomy

  • End ileostomy

  • Urostomy

Learn more about the different types of ostomy procedures to understand how they are carried out, and what kind of bag and products are suitable for each ostomy.

What can I expect after stoma surgery?

The first few weeks after your stoma surgery can be challenging and we know that it takes time to adjust to having a stoma and you may struggle with a different body image. However, most stoma users are able to lead completely normal lives and resume to normal activities after having settled with their new routines.

You are never alone

After your operation, you will stay in the hospital for a few days, allowing your body to recover and heal. A stoma care nurse will help you become confident in taking care of your stoma. Having a spouse or relative with you at this time can be helpful, and they can make sure that you continue with your new routines once you're home. You can also discuss with your nurse when you'll be able to resume to normal activities.

Your nurse will help you with:

how will my life change after surgery?

Discover our article on stoma surgery to learn more about the different types of stoma surgery including urostomy, loop ileostomy, loop colostomy, end ostomy/end colostomy and end ileostomy. We also answer your questions on permanent or temporary stomas, guide you on how to prepare for stoma surgery and give helpful advice on how to tackle challenges post surgery.

Overcoming challenges: We're here to help

Once you are home, you may experience some challenges caring for your stoma. But remember that your WOC nurse, as well as a dedicated Coloplast Care Advisor, will be more than happy to help you with any issues.

Our care programme, Coloplast Care was created to help make living with an ostomy easier. We send you tailored emails with lifestyle advice, Our dedicated advisors and helpful health and lifestyle education can help you find a "new normal." To get in touch with a Care Advisor, call 1-888-726-7872.

How do I care for my stoma?

In the beginning, your stoma may need extra care and attention to heal properly. It will be swollen, but slowly shrink to its normal size over the next 6-8 weeks. The best way of caring for your stoma is watching what and when you eat and drink, and taking good care of the skin around your stoma.

Caring for your skin

  • Always wash the skin around your stoma with warm water, and let it dry completely before you attach your baseplate and pouch

  • Use special skincare products for the skin around your stoma to nourish the skin and prevent skin irritation. Avoid any products that contain alcohol and can dry out your skin. Avoid products that contain oil, which can make it harder to attach the baseplate and pouch.

Would you like more advice and tips on how to care for your stoma? Explore our full article on stoma care to learn more about diet and nutrition and healthy habits to care for your stoma.

how do I find the right product for me?

What is the best ostomy product solution for you?

It may take some time before you find a product that fits you perfectly and the pouch you are using when discharged from the hospital will most likely not be your permanent solution.

Some stoma users can experience sore skin around the stoma, skin irritation and leakage. Usually, this would be a sign that you need to care differently for your stoma or more likely, that your current bag doesn't fit you as it should. Your stoma bag should always fit snugly around your stoma. However, a stoma can change over time, especially if your body shape changes. After a stoma operation, your body may change for a number of reasons. These include:

  • Weight gain or loss as you recover from the illness that caused the operation

  • Folds or scar tissue in the skin surrounding your stoma

  • Parastomal hernia connected to your stoma opening

If your body profile changes, it’s important that you make sure your pouch still fits snugly. Make sure that you assess the fit of your pouch at least once a month, and even more frequently in the first couple of months after your surgery. Always check in with your doctor, if you are experiencing serious skin complications or leakage.

Take the test: What product is right for you?

If you experience ostomy leakage or sore skin around your stoma, try one of our Ostomy Self-Assessment Tools. We have 3 self-assessment tools designed to help guide you in finding the ostomy solution that is best for you and your body.

Coloplast offers a wide variety of ostomy products to suit every kind of stoma and body shape. Our products are designed to give you a custom fit and prevent leakage. We also offer a wide range of accessory product such as skin barriers and sealants, which can help reduce skin irritation and ensure a better fit.

Join Coloplast Care

If you'd like to learn more about living with a stoma, the Coloplast Care program can help. We offer advice, personalized support and inspiration whenever you need it. We'll pair you with a dedicated care advisor to help answer any questions you might have along the way. Sign up for Coloplast Care here!

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