STOMA – A Summary

STOMA – A Summary

An ostomy, or stoma, is a surgically created opening between the intestines and the abdominal wall. The most common types of ostomy connect either the small intestines (ileostomy or jejunostomy) or the large intestine (colostomy) to the abdominal wall. Ostomies can be temporary or permanent. 


  • Cancer
  • Trauma
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.
  • Bowel obstruction
  • Infection
  • Fecal incontinence (inability to control bowel movements)
  • Diverticular disease (small bulges or sacs that form in the wall of the large intestine)


Ask your surgeon if you do not know what type of ostomy you have.

  • Ileostomy: Connects the last part of the small intestines (ileum) to the abdominal wall.
  • Colostomy: Connects a part of the colon (large intestine) to the abdominal wall.
  • Temporary ostomy: This is an ostomy that can be removed surgically at a later time.  It is generally made from the small intestines (ileostomy).  It prevents the passage of stool through the intestines below the stoma. A temporary ostomy is created to allow the intestines to heal after surgery or from a disease such as diverticular disease or Crohn’s disease. 
  • Permanent ostomy: This is an ostomy that is used when parts of the rectum, anus and colon have been removed due to disease or treatment of a disease.  It is generally made from the large intestines (colostomy). It may also be done when the muscles that control elimination are removed or no longer function properly. A permanent ostomy may be removed under some circumstances.

Figure 1: An ostomy connects either the small or the large intestine to the abdominal wall.


After an ostomy is created, bowel movements occur through the opening in the abdominal wall or stoma. The ostomy appliance consists of a wafer and bag. The wafer sticks to the abdominal wall with adhesive and is made of plastic.  The bag catches and holds the stool. The bag is disposable and emptied or replaced as needed. This system is secure, odor-free and accidents are uncommon.


Prior to surgery, your surgeon or Wound, Ostomy and Continence (WOC) nurse will examine your abdomen to find a suitable place on your abdominal wall for the opening or stoma. An ostomy is best placed on a flat portion of the front of your abdomen that is easy to see. A colostomy is usually placed to the left of the navel and an ileostomy to the right. 


Figure 2: An ostomy appliance is a plastic pouch. It is held to the body with an adhesive skin barrier that provides secure and odor-free control of bowel movements.


  • You will be taught how to use the ostomy bag by a WOC nurse or enterostomal therapist and your colon and rectal surgeon. The doctors and nurses will work with you on any necessary changes to your diet.
  • The frequency and volume of bowel movements vary from person to person. Your bowel movements will depend on how often you went to the bathroom prior to surgery, the type of ostomy that was placed, the type of surgery that was done and your dietary habits.

An ostomy appliance is a plastic pouch. It is held to the body with an adhesive skin barrier. It provides secure and odor-free control of bowel movements.


Depending on the type of ostomy, you may need to change what you eat to control the number of and consistency of bowel movements. You will learn to monitor the effect of food on ostomy function. After a period of time, many patients are able to slowly introduce foods back into their diets. It helps to chew food well, drink plenty of fluids and avoid certain high roughage foods, such as green leafy vegetables. After recovering from surgery, most patients do not have dietary limitations.


All activities including recreational sports and activities may be resumed once healing from surgery is complete. Public figures, famous entertainers and even professional athletes have ostomies that do not limit their activities.

Most patients with ostomies are able to resume their usual sexual activity. Some patients worry that their sexual partner will not find them attractive due to the ostomy bag. This change in body image can be overcome. A strong relationship, time, patience and support groups all help address these problems.


Unless you tell someone, they won’t know that you have an ostomy. An ostomy is easily hidden by most clothing. You have probably met people with an ostomy and did not realize it.


An ostomy can have complications. In the beginning, it may take some time to adjust to the way the appliance fits and empties. During this time, accidents, or leakage from the bag, may happen. Once you are used to the stoma wafer and bag, most common problems, such as local skin irritation, are easily treated. Major changes in weight loss or gain can affect how the ostomy sits on your abdomen. Some people develop a hernia (weakening of the abdominal wall around the ostomy) or prolapse (a protrusion of the bowel). These problems require surgery only if they cause major symptoms.

Living with an ostomy requires a period of learning and adjustment. Your colon and rectal surgeon and WOC nurse will provide necessary assistance and support. With a little time, you will discover ways to live an active and full life with an ostomy.

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