What is an ostomy?

An ostomy is a surgically created opening in the body that allows waste to bypass a diseased or damaged part of the digestive or urinary system. Common types of ostomies include: 

  • Colostomy: This procedure allows an opening to be formed for the colon or large intestine through the abdomen.
  • Ileostomy: This procedure connects part of the small intestine (usually the ileum) to the abdomen.
  • Urostomy: This procedure creates a path for urine out of the body through the abdomen.


Ostomy opening


The location of the ostomy depends on the part of the body that has been bypassed. The part of the intestine or urinary system that is brought to the surface of the skin is called a stoma. A person living with an ostomy uses an ostomy pouch to collect waste from the stoma.

Different factors can necessitate an ostomy, including bowel or bladder diseases, injury, or cancer. An ostomy can be temporary or permanent, depending on the reason for the surgery. In some cases, once healing has occurred, an ostomy reversal is performed to restore the normal function of the bowel or bladder.

Ostomy care

Effective ostomy care involves keeping both the stoma and the skin around it clean and free from irritation. This is crucial because waste that leaks onto the skin can cause irritation and infection. Ostomy care also involves properly placing and securing the ostomy pouch to prevent leaks.

One of the primary aspects of ostomy care is learning how to change the ostomy pouch. The process involves gently removing the old pouch, cleaning the stoma and surrounding skin, and then attaching a new pouch.  The pouch will also require emptying, and the frequency of emptying the pouch will depend on the type of ostomy. For instance, a colostomy pouch might need to be emptied one to three times a day, while an ileostomy pouch may need to be emptied six to eight times a day.

Another key element of ostomy care is monitoring the stoma's appearance. A healthy stoma is moist and red or pink in color. If the stoma becomes discolored, swollen, or starts to bleed excessively, it is important for patients to seek medical attention.


Ostomy supplies


Managing an ostomy requires specific supplies designed to collect waste, protect the skin, and ensure the ostomy functions properly. Here are the common ostomy supplies: 
•    Ostomy appliance:
This is a pouch that collects waste from the stoma. Ostomy pouches come in two types: closed, which are designed to be disposed of after use and are typically used by colostomates, and drainable, which can be emptied and reused and are often used by ileostomates and urostomates.
•    Skin barrier: Also known as a wafer or flange, the skin barrier is a protective layer that sticks to the skin around the stoma and attaches to the ostomy pouch. It protects the skin from irritation and helps hold the pouch in place.
•    Adhesive remover: This is used to gently remove the skin barrier and adhesive residue from the skin without causing irritation.
•    Stoma powder: This is applied to the skin around the stoma to absorb moisture and protect the skin from irritation.
•    Ostomy belt: This is worn around the waist to hold the ostomy pouch in place and provide additional security.
•    Ostomy deodorant: This is added to the ostomy pouch to help control odors.

Living with an ostomy can be challenging, but with the right education and support, individuals can lead a healthy and active life. By understanding what an ostomy is, the types, and the appropriate care, clinicians can prevent complications and improve patients’ quality of life. See our write up on one patient’s perspective on how to adapt to living with an ostomy bag in the blog below. 


Want to learn more ostomy care and management?


Our ostomy courses help you understand both the physiological and emotional challenges people with stomas face on a daily basis.