A colostomy is an opening -- called a stoma -- that connects the colon to the surface of the abdomen. This provides a new path for waste material and gas to leave the body after part of the colon or rectum is removed because of disease or injury.
Colostomy irrigation is a way to regulate bowel movements by emptying the colon at a scheduled time. The process involves infusing water into the colon through the stoma. This stimulates the colon to empty. By repeating this process regularly -- once a day or once every second day -- the colon can be trained to empty with no spillage of waste in between irrigation. Colostomy irrigation also can help you avoid constipation.
Inside your abdominal cavity is the long, tubular digestive tract. The second part of this tube -- the large intestine -- is composed of the colon, which stretches 4 feet to 6 feet, and the rectum, which is only 4 inches to 6 inches long.
The inner lining of this "colorectal tube" can be a fertile breeding ground for small tumors, called polyps (Figure 1). About a quarter of all adults in the U.S. older than age 50 will have at least one colorectal polyp. Most colorectal cancers develop from polyps...
Colostomy irrigation is a personal decision. If you are a candidate (see below), your doctor or a nurse who is specially trained to help people with colostomies, will discuss this option with you while you are still in the hospital after your surgery.
Who Is a Candidate for Colostomy Irrigation?
Patients with permanent colostomies and whose opening is in the descending or sigmoid portion of the colon are good candidates for irrigation. This is because their stools tend to be more formed. People with irritable bowel syndrome, stomal problems, or stomas in the ascending or transverse colons are less likely to have success with irrigation and are, therefore, not good candidates for colostomy irrigation.
When Is Colostomy Irrigation Done?
Colostomy irrigation is most effective when it is done about one hour after a meal, when the colon is most likely to be full. Irrigation may be done once a day or once every other day depending on your preference and ability to regulate your bowel movements. It generally takes about six weeks to eight weeks for the bowel to become regulated with irrigation. It is important to establish a routine and irrigate at the same time each day.