What is an ostomy?

The big question: What is an ostomy? Here’s your first lesson.

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An ostomy is basically a non-natural opening in your body by which a person releases waste. Through this hole, the surgeon will pull the end of either your small/large intestine or ureter, thus creating a stoma. These terms are sometimes used interchangeably, however, most often when someone is speaking about their ostomy, they are referring to the entire thing, but a stoma refers to the actual piece of organ that is outside of the body.

An external pouching system is used to collect the waste. In more simple terms, an adhesive bag covers the stoma and catches the poop or pee as it exits the body. The bags can then be changed out or emptied into a toilet.

There are 3 main types of ostomies: ileostomy (stoma is made from small intestine), colostomy (made from large intestine) and urostomy (made from the ureter and part of the small intestine). I’ll go into each of these in a little more detail later this week.

It doesn’t seem like particularly accurate calculations are kept, but it is believed that approximately 1 million people in the U.S. alone have an ostomy of some sort, with another 300,000 having surgery every year.

Reasons for needing an ostomy:

  • Inflammatory bowel disease: Crohn’s disease & ulcerative colitis
  • Colon cancer
  • Diverticulitis
  • Bladder cancer
  • Familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP)
  • Bowel obstruction
  • Trauma, accident, birth defect, etc.

An ostomy can be temporary or permanent. A temporary ostomy may be used if the intestinal tract needs time to heal and can be reconnected in the future or it can also be used as the first step in a two-part surgery to form an internal pouch. A permanent ostomy is sometimes needed when the entire colon has been removed, or at the very least the rectum, or when a reconnection surgery is not possible.

I do not pretend to have extensive medical knowledge, so some of this information was found online: UOAA, ASCRS, NIH

13 thoughts on “What is an ostomy?

  1. Dave

    Stephanie, I love reading your posts because you state exactly what all people with ostomies need to know. You epitomize someone who has not only overcome their illness, but someone who is thriving. You are a beautiful, articulate woman and we in UOAA NEED people like you to partner with. Can I put you in touch with our President ?

    1. Sandy

      My Mom had a colostomy at 60 years old and she lived until almost 83. So that’s nice to know. She went to her yearly cancer test always. But before she died she broke her shoulder after that at age of 79 then we found cancer on her left breast, she ended up loosing both breasts then braking her Hip, wrist and Pelvis all in3/4 yrs. then we found a cancer mass in her Bowls they operated but couldn’t get it all! She died four months later. So she did fight cancer for a long time! But I believe if Mom had’nt
      Had all those breaks, she might still be with us?

  2. minerva Hinojos

    Is normal to for an actual long string thread come out of the rectom, after a year of having colostomy surgery?

  3. Lisa Bullock

    I had ulcerative colitis at age 7 and a illeostomy at age 10 1963. I had thst for 20 years. Then after having my children. I had a Koch pouch at 30. I’ve had that for 32 years. Now I’m a grandmother of 6. I’ve heard more recently, about ulcerative colitis than I have my in tire life.

    1. Tony

      Hello Lisa,
      Could you tell us a little more about your koch pouch? I had colorectal cancer and and having issues with my bowels. Dr. told me one solution would be to install a stoma, and I am in the process of researching about it, types, and all that.

      Thanks a lot.

      1. Lisa Bullock

        A Koch pouch is a internal pouch, you use a catheter, several times a day to go to bathroom. There is another type called j pouch. I’m not familiar with that one. It is koch pouch , convenient. I don’t have skin issues, I had with illeostomy. Or leakage. I use a 4×4 gauze with a piece of paper tape, that’s it. It kind of looks like belly button. I had 4 revisions on my illeostomy. Some because of pregnancy, and prolapse. My Koch pouch I had 1 8 years ago. The hole had become tight for cathetor. So I recommend it. Thank you Sincerely Lisa Bullock.

  4. Chuck

    I have rectal cancer. Surgery to remove colon where the cancer was is schedule for next month. My Dr. is not certain he will have enough colon to reconnect before the anus. A)How much colon is needed to suture the northern colon to the southern colon after removal, if you know. B) Will the decision to go with a temp or perm bag have to be made while I am on the table. These are questions for the professional but that means I wait until I get a return call after 3pm tomorrow.

  5. Wendell Craven

    My wife had a collectomy years ago and this year began having bowel obstructions, 5 to date. She’s presently in the hospital with another one, I asked when she had the last obstruction, if an ostomy might help, the hospitalist categorically said NO. Now with this obstruction, the hospitalist, different one, says it might work if they can’t otherwise resolve this issue. It would be so reassuring if they could come to an agreement.


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