A colostomy is an operation that creates an opening for the colon, or large intestine, through the abdomen. A colostomy may be temporary or permanent. It is usually performed after bowel surgery or injury.
Most permanent colostomies are “end colostomies,” while many temporary colostomies bring the side of the colon up to an opening in the abdomen.
Colostomy surgery may be needed to treat several different diseases and conditions. These include:
The reason for the colostomy helps the health care provider decide whether it will be short-term or permanent. For example, some infections or injuries require giving the bowel a temporary rest, then reattaching it. A permanent colostomy may be required for a more serious or incurable problem, such as cancer that requires removal of the rectum, or a failure of the muscles that control elimination.
Risks of the procedure
Getting a colostomy marks a big change in your life, but the surgery itself is uncomplicated. It will be performed under general anesthesia, so you will be unconscious and feel no pain. A colostomy may be done as open surgery, or laparoscopically, via several tiny cuts.
As with any surgery, the main risks for anesthesia are breathing problems and poor reactions to medications. A colostomy carries other surgical risks:
After surgery, risks include:
Before the procedure
If possible, be sure to discuss your surgical and postsurgical options with a doctor and an ostomy nurse (a nurse who is specially trained to help colostomy patients) before surgery. It may also help to meet with an ostomy visitor. This is a volunteer who has had a colostomy and can help you understand how to live with one. And, before or after your surgery, you may wish to attend an ostomy support group. You can find out more about such groups from the United Ostomy Associations of America or the American Cancer Society.
During the procedure
Depending on why you need a colostomy, it will be made in one of four parts of the colon: ascending, transverse, descending, or sigmoid.
After the procedure
You may be able to suck on ice chips on the same day as your surgery. You’ll probably be given clear fluids the next day. Some people eat normally within two days after a colostomy.
A normal stoma is moist and pink or red colored. When you first see your colostomy, it may appear dark red and swollen, with bruises. Don’t worry. Within a few weeks, the color will lighten and bruises should disappear.
The bandage or clear pouch covering your colostomy right after surgery probably won’t be the same type that you’ll use at home. Your colostomy will drain stool from your colon into this colostomy pouch or bag. Your stool will probably be more liquid than before surgery. Your stool consistency will also depend on what type of colostomy you have and how much of your colon is still active.
In the hospital
A colostomy requires a hospital stay of about three days to a week. Your stay will probably be longer if the colostomy was performed for an emergency. During your hospital stay, you’ll learn to care for your colostomy and the appliance or pouch that collects your stool.
You will be thought how to clean your stoma. After you go home, you’ll do this gently every day with warm water only. Then gently pat dry or allow the area to air dry. Don’t worry if you see a little bit of blood.
Use your time in the hospital to learn how to care for your colostomy. If you have an ascending or transverse colostomy, you will need to wear a slim, lightweight, drainable pouch at all times. There are many different types of pouches, varying in cost and made from odor-resistant materials.
Some people with a descending or sigmoid colostomy can eventually learn to predict when their bowels will move and wear a pouch only when they expect a movement. They may also be able to master a process called irrigation to stimulate regular, controlled bowel movements.
Before going home, be sure to talk with an ostomy nurse or other expert who can help you try out the equipment you’ll need. What works best will depend on what type of colostomy you have; the length of your stoma; your abdominal shape and firmness; any scars or folds near the stoma; and your height and weight.
Sometimes, the rectum and anus must be surgically removed, leaving what’s called a posterior wound. In the hospital, you’ll use dressings and pads to cover this wound, and you may also take sitz baths–shallow, warm-water soaks. Ask your doctor and nurse how to care for your posterior wound until it heals. If problems should occur, please contact your doctor.
The skin around your stoma should look the same as elsewhere on your abdomen. Exposure to stool, especially loose stool, can be irritating. Here are some tips to protect your skin:
Notify your doctor: When the following occour
A good rule is to empty your pouch when it’s one-third full. And be sure to change the pouch before it leaks. As a general rule, change it no more than once a day, but not less than every three or four days.
A colostomy represents a big change, but you will soon learn to live with it. Even though you can feel the pouch against your body, no one else can see it. Do not feel the need to explain your colostomy to everyone who asks; only share as much as you want to.
Living with a colostomy
Although a colostomy will alter your life, modern colostomy products are designed to be less inconvenient and allow you to do most of the activities that you could before surgery. You should be able to wear the same type of clothes you wore before the colostomy because pouches are designed to blend in, fitting close to the body. Products also have odor-barrier film that traps bad odor, which only releases when the colostomy pouch is being emptied.
A colostomy should not restrict you from the activities of your daily life. Patients with colostomies go to work, play most sports, and engage in sexual activity. Reasonable activity will not hurt you or your stoma.
Despite efforts to adjust, some people may feel depressed or embarrassed by their colostomy. Reaching out to a support group of patients with colostomies, either in person or online, may help answer your questions and provide emotional support.
The colon, rectum and anus are the last sections of the body’s digestive system. Although they are an important part of the system, they have little to do with digesting food or absorbing nutrients. In fact, the large intestine can be thought of as the body’s trash compactor. As “leftover” liquid flows through the colon, it becomes solid waste (feces). The waste material is passed through the various sections of the colon, then moves onward to the rectum. From there, it is eliminated from the body through the anus.
When the colon, rectum or anus is unable to function normally because of disease or injury, or needs to rest from normal function, the body must have another way to eliminate the waste. A colostomy is an opening in the large intestine that is brought out onto the surface of the abdomen. This provides a new path for waste material and gas to leave the body. The colostomy is also called a stoma. It can be permanent or temporary.
There are many reasons why a colostomy becomes necessary. Some of the conditions that may require a colostomy include:
A colostomy results from a surgical procedure performed under general anesthesia. During the surgery, healthy colon is brought through an opening in the abdominal wall and stitched to your skin. Unlike the anus, the opening (stoma) has no sphincter muscle, so you cannot control the exit of waste. You will need to wear a pouch (called an ostomy collecting device) to collect the waste flow.
A colostomy can be permanent or temporary, depending on the condition being treated and the surgery performed. A temporary colostomy may be done to allow part of the intestine to rest and heal.
For most patients, a colostomy will not be needed. Today’s modern surgical techniques and instruments have decreased the number of operations that require a colostomy. Only 10% of patients with rectal cancer and less than 1% with colon cancer will ever need a permanent colostomy. If you do need to have a colostomy, there will be some changes in your lifestyle, but you will receive education to help manage and adjust to these changes.
While in the hospital after your surgery, you will be educated about the care of your colostomy and given some tips to help make the necessary adjustments. Some patients find the advice and support of other colostomy patients helpful. There are ostomy support groups available to provide additional information and emotional support.
Once you have learned how to care for your colostomy, you will have to regulate your diet to avoid constipation and diarrhea. Some patients find that a process called colostomy irrigation, which uses an enema through the stoma, clears the colon for the day so a pouch may not be necessary. Medical supply stores and some drug stores carry supplies to help you care for your colostomy. You will need to check with your insurance carrier to determine if they cover colostomy supplies.
Here are some additional tips to help you adjust to your colostomy:
Be sure to talk with your doctor or nurse about resuming your normal activities and about any concerns you have about living with your colostomy.
In some cases, skin irritation can result from stool that leaks under the pouch. A hernia can develop around a colostomy. The bowel may become narrow or it may prolapse, which means it gets longer. Proper fitting of an ostomy pouch can help prevent skin irritation. The wound, ostomy, continence nurse, also called a stoma nurse, can help choose an appropriate pouch and suggest ways to care for your skin.
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