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Colorectal Cancer Health Center

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Living With a Colostomy

What Is a Colostomy?

To understand a colostomy, let's start with some background. The colon, which is the last four or five feet of the intestine, is part of the body's digestive system. It has the job of absorbing water from waste material (feces) and returning it to the body. The solid waste material is then passed through the colon 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 a surgical 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. A colostomy can be permanent or temporary.

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How Will a Colostomy Change my Life?

While still in the hospital after your colostomy surgery, you will be educated about the care of your colostomy and given some tips for making the necessary adjustments. Living with a colostomy will require a modification of your lifestyle. But with proper education and guidance, it can be manageable. Hopefully, the following tips will help you adjust. And, keep in mind there are colostomy societies and support groups available to offer assistance.

  • Monitor your colostomy medications. Some medicines can cause constipation or diarrhea.
  • Eat a well-balanced diet. Avoid foods that cause excessive gas, such as cabbage, beans, and some nuts. A dietitian can help you choose a balanced diet that will help you avoid constipation and diarrhea and not interfere with your colostomy.
  • Live your life. Having a colostomy is not the end of life as you know it. Modern colostomy supplies are designed to lie flat and are not noticeable under clothing. Most colostomy patients are able to return to work and to many of the activities -- including sex -- they enjoyed before surgery.
  • Consider colostomy irrigation. Some people find that a process called colostomy irrigation, which uses an enema through the stoma, clears the colon for the day and a bag may not be necessary. Talk to your doctor to find out if you are a candidate.

Be sure to talk with your doctor or the nurse about resuming your normal activities and about any concerns you have about living with your colostomy.

Colostomy Warning Signs

In some cases, skin irritation or infection can result from stool that leaks under the bag. A hernia can develop around a colostomy, and the bowel may become narrow. Taking good care of your stoma and eating a balanced diet can help you avoid these problems.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by David T. Derrer, MD on September 01, 2014

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