Living with a colostomy or ileostomy

By Angela Wheeler and Liam Surlis, Colorectal Nurse Specialists at The Wellington Hospital

Living with a colostomy or ileostomy can be a challenging experience, but it’s important to remember you’re not alone. Many people around the world have undergone these procedures and are living happy and fulfilling lives.

A colostomy is a surgical procedure that involves creating an opening in the abdomen through which the colon is brought to the surface of the skin. An ileostomy is a similar procedure, but involving the small intestine. This means that, instead of passing through your rectum and anus, your stools (faeces) pass through the stoma and into a disposable bag worn over the stoma.

Both types of stoma can be temporary. This is usually the case when the stools need to be diverted to allow your bowel to heal after surgery involving a join to reconnect to ends of the bowel or to protect the colon from blockage (obstruction).

In some cases, however – such as following radical cancer treatment of cancer, inflammatory or functional diseases of the bowel – stomas can be permanent.

Living with a colostomy Living with a colostomy

How do you take care of an ostomy?

Learning how to look after a stoma can take a little time and patience. You’ll be referred to a Stoma Clinical Nurse Specialist who’ll give you information on what to expect after the surgery. Following your procedure, you’ll be given lots of guidance and support on how to care for your stoma, including changing and emptying your stoma bag. As well as practical, day-to-day advice to for those learning to live with a stoma, they’ll also offer emotional support, to help you gain confidence and return to a full and active life.

There are many different types of bags available, including one- and two-piece systems. It’s important to find the one that works best for you – the one that feels most comfortable and you feel most confident with. Whether in hospital or following your return home, the Stoma Clinical Nurse Specialists have a wealth of experience in helping you find the right products and appliances for you.

What about my diet?

Diet is another important aspect of living with a colostomy or ileostomy. Depending on the reason for your surgery, you may need to make some changes to your diet to avoid certain foods that can cause too much, or too little output, from the stoma.

You’ll have help from dieticians and specialist nurses to make sure you’re getting the right nutritional and staying hydrated. Patients with ileostomies can experience high volumes of liquid output at certain times, especially due to illness or as a result of the surgery. If this isn’t identified and correctly managed, it can cause dehydration and risk damaging the kidneys. These high output issues are rare, and can usually be managed with a combination of medication (to help limit bowel function), dietary adjustment and education on hydration, including which fluids to drink.

Stomas and mental health

Feelings of anxiety, depression or embarrassment are common for people facing the prospect of living with a stoma. However, it’s important to remember that, with the right support and resources, having a colostomy or ileostomy doesn’t have to limit your life.

Many people with ostomies live happy and fulfilling lives, and are able to participate in sports, travel and other activities just like anyone else. It may take some time to adjust to your new lifestyle, but your surgical and specialist nursing team will help you practically and emotionally throughout, and direct you to other avenues of support and advice as and when you need it.

Book an appointment

To book a consultation with The Colorectal & Robotic Surgery Centre, you can phone, email or use our “contact us” form.


Call:  +44 20 3214 3440
back to top