A colostomy is a surgical procedure that diverts a part of your large intestine out through an opening in your abdominal wall. This creates a stoma to which a colostomy bag is attached for collecting poo. Colostomies can be temporary or long-term.
The procedure is given to people who have problems with their lower bowel. This might be due to colorectal cancer, injury, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, a blockage, diverticulitis or a birth defect.
Adapting to life with a colostomy can be challenging at first. However, in time, there is no reason that you can’t continue to lead a full and active life. Modern colostomy equipment is discreet and secure and there is no reason for it to hinder your lifestyle.
Immediately after surgery
During your recovery in hospital your body will slowly be reintroduced to liquids and foods, starting, on the first day, with ice chips to quell your thirst. Next you will move on to clear liquids and eventually soft foods. Once you have recovered you should be able to enjoy a normal diet again.
You will be shown how to use the colostomy bag and given instructions about diet and lifestyle.
Getting used to the equipment
A specialist stoma nurse will see you before and after your operation to explain the colostomy equipment. A colostomy bag needs to be replaced when it gets full, normally between one and three times a day and replaced every two to three days. You may also wish to wear a support belt or girdle and a protective stoma ring. Specially designed underwear and swimwear is also available.
You will be given a supply of colostomy equipment when you leave hospital and details of how to order more. If your colostomy is permanent you won’t have to pay prescription charges, but you will if the colostomy is temporary unless you are being treated for cancer or are over 60.
Frequently asked questions about colostomies
Are there any alternatives to colostomy bags?
Depending on the reason for your colostomy, you may be able to perform colostomy irrigation as an alternative to wearing a bag.
This involves washing out the colon with water every day or every other day. This means you won’t have to wear a colostomy bag but it can be time-consuming.
Can I eat normally?
A high-fibre diet can temporarily block your bowel so for the first few weeks you will need to follow a low-fibre diet. But, over time you can return to eating a healthy balanced diet and there is no reason why you can’t eat the foods you have always enjoyed.
I am worried about the smell
One of the main concerns for people having a colostomy is that other people will be able to smell the contents of the bag. It is reassuring to know that, although you may be able to smell it, people nearby will not.
All modern colostomies are fitted with air filters to neutralise any smells and your stoma nurse will advise you on how to reduce wind by avoiding certain foods.
Will I be able to have sex?
Many people worry about the impact of having a colostomy on their sex life. People who have had the procedure can and do have sex but it may take a little time to come to terms with the changes in your body for you and your partner.
Certain positions may be uncomfortable and you may need to use a little more lubrication than before. Some men may experience erectile dysfunction but medication is available to help with this. Your stoma nurse will be able to advise you on how to continue to enjoy a normal, active sex life.
Will I still be able to exercise?
Once you have recovered from your operation you should be able to return to exercising as you did before. All colostomy bags are waterproof so you will even be able to swim.
There is plenty of support available for people who have had colostomies and also encouragement from people who have undergone the procedure themselves that it is possible to continue to lead a normal life after a colostomy.
Experienced bowel doctors, here to help you
There really is nothing to feel embarrassed about and everything to be gained by coming to talk to our specialists.
Whatever feelings and fears you are experiencing, we want you to know that expert help is available.