Guide to Colostomy Bags

Medically Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian, MD on May 05, 2023
3 min read

If your bowel needs to heal after a health problem or part of your colon needs to be taken out because of a condition or disease, you may need a colostomy bag.

During surgery, the end of your colon is brought through an opening in your belly to form what's called a "stoma." This is where your feces (poop) will come out. Unlike your anus, your stoma doesn't have muscles or nerve endings. So you can't control when you move your bowels. Instead, a pouch, called a colostomy bag, goes over the stoma to collect your poop when it comes out.

Whether you'll only need it for a brief time or it's a permanent change, a colostomy bag can take some getting used to. But most people adjust and soon return to their normal lives.

One colostomy bag doesn't fit all. There are different types to choose from:

  • One-piece system: This fits around your stoma and is attached with a gentle adhesive. When you need a fresh bag, you take the whole thing off and replace it with a new one. Some of these systems use flushable liners.
  • Two-piece system: A base plate fits tightly around your stoma, and you attach a bag to it. You'll change the bag as needed; the base plate usually is changed every 2 to 3 days.
  • Closed bags: These are best used with firm stools. You'll change it twice a day. Some have special liners inside that can be flushed down the toilet.
  • Drainable bags: These are best if your stools are very liquid. You empty them through an opening at the bottom. They need to be changed every 2 or 3 days.
  • Mini pouches: These are small bags you wear for only a short amount of time.

Your doctor or a nurse trained in stoma care will help you choose the one that's right for you and your lifestyle. Many times, it's possible to try one before you decide.

Your medical team will show you how to care for the bag. But here are a few tips to help you fit it into your daily life:

  • Decide how to share your news. You may feel less self-conscious if you show your colostomy bag to loved ones or talk about it with friends. You also may decide to tell your boss or a co-worker in case you need their help or understanding at work.
  • Get an honest opinion. Ask someone you trust if they can see your bag under your clothes or hear the noises it makes. You may realize you're worrying about your colostomy bag more than you need to.
  • There are ways to hide it. For example, you can empty your bag once it's one-third full so it doesn't stick out under your clothes. A secure bag should not have leakage and should be odor-resistant.
  • Wear what you want. A colostomy bag should fit under your normal clothes. If not, some companies make special high-rise pants and underwear with a special pocket to hold your bag. You also can find swimwear with a mesh lining or gathered fabric to hide any bulges.
  • You can have a good sex life. While you might feel self-conscious at first, try to relax. Change your bag right before you're intimate. You can also take off the bag and temporarilyuse a small stoma cap instead.
  • Stay active. You can still exercise. Talk to your doctor about when to wear a support garment or a hard plastic shield called a stoma guard.
  • Give yourself time to get used to foods. Some are more likely to cause gas, diarrhea, or constipation. Try them at home one by one so you know how your body will react.
  • Remember to laugh. Don't worry if you have an awkward moment or two while you're getting used to your colostomy bag. That's normal. You may handle it better if you can keep your sense of humor.