Ostomy

An ostomy is a surgically created opening connecting an internal organ to the surface of the body. Different kinds of ostomies are named for the organ involved. The most common types of ostomies in intestinal surgery are an "ileostomy" (connecting the ileal part of the small intestine to the abdominal wall) and a "colostomy" (connecting the colon, or, large intestine to the abdominal wall).

An ostomy may be temporary or permanent. A temporary ostomy may be required if the intestinal tract can't be properly prepared for surgery because of blockage by disease or scar tissue. A temporary ostomy may also be created to allow inflammation or an operative site to heal without contamination by stool. Temporary ostomies can usually be reversed with minimal or no loss of intestinal function.  A permanent ostomy may be required when disease, or its treatment, impairs normal intestinal function, or when the muscles that control elimination do not work properly or require removal. The most common causes of these conditions are low rectal cancer and inflammatory bowel disease.

An ostomy is best placed on a flat portion of the abdominal wall. Before undergoing surgery to create an ostomy, it is best for your surgeon or WOC nurse to mark an appropriate place on your abdominal wall not constricted by your belt-line. A colostomy is usually placed to the left of your navel and an ileostomy to the right.

The answer to this question is usually no. Public figures, prominent entertainers, and even professional athletes have ostomies that do not significantly limit their activities. All your usual activities, including active sports, may be resumed once healing from surgery is complete.

Most patients with ostomies resume their usual sexual activity. Many people with ostomies worry about how their sexual partner will think of them because of their appliance. This perceived change in one's body image can be overcome by a strong relationship, time and patience. Support groups are also available in many cities.

Complications from an ostomy can occur. Most, like local skin irritation are typically minor and can be easily remedied. Problems such as a hernia associated with the ostomy or prolapse of the ostomy (a protrusion of the bowel) occasionally require surgery if they cause significant symptoms. Weight loss or gain may affect the function of an ostomy.

Living with an ostomy will require some adjustments and learning, but an active and fulfilling life is still possible and likely. Your colon and rectal surgeon and WOC nurse will provide you with skills and support to help you better live with your ostomy.

© 2008 American Society of Colon & Rectal Surgeons