A Helpful Guide to Living with an Ostomy

An ostomy is a surgical procedure which creates an opening to the abdomen from the bowel or ureters. The result of an ostomy is a stoma, which helps with the elimination of bodily waste. An ostomy may be necessary due to injury, disease, or a congenital defect. Commonly, ostomates (people with ostomies) will wear a pouch that covers the stoma and collects the waste, but in some cases they retain control over the discharge of waste and an appliance is not necessary.

While transitioning to an ostomy is a significant event, it doesn’t have to interfere with how you live your life. And there are many resources available to help make it easier. Read on for more information on ostomies and how you can keep living life your way.


Types of Ostomies


A colostomy brings a portion of the colon out through a stoma for the elimination of waste, and can be either temporary or permanent. If permanent, the rectum and anus may be removed or stitched closed.


With an ileostomy, part of the small intestine is brought out through a stoma in the abdominal wall. Stool and gas pass through the stoma and are collected in a pouch outside the body.


A urostomy redirects urine by bypassing the bladder or having it removed entirely. A stoma is made in the abdominal wall to create the passageway, and the urine is collected in a pouch outside the body.


A tracheostomy creates a stoma through the front of the neck into the trachea in order to help a person breathe. 

A new path for air to reach the lungs is created when a tracheostomy tube is placed through the stoma.

Gastrostomy or Jejunostomy

A gastrostomy creates a stoma through the abdominal wall into the stomach. A jejunostomy makes a stoma into the middle part of the small intestine (jejunum) through the abdominal wall.

These are used to provide nutrition to the stomach when eating and drinking may be difficult.


Taking Care of an Ostomy and Stoma.

Properly caring for an ostomy can be a complex process, especially if you do not personally know someone who has one. Fortunately, there are nurses who can help you and your family learn how to care for and live an ostomy, known as Nurses Specializing in Wound, Ostomy and Continence Canada (NSWOCC). You can find more resources and contact information on their website


Pouching Systems

With a colostomy, ileostomy or urostomy, stool and urine are collected in an odour-proof pouch system made of one or two pieces, and may be closed-end or drainable. Generally speaking, drainable pouches are changed twice per week, while closed-end systems are changed daily. 

When cleaning the stoma, be sure to avoid using soap, alcohol, or baby wipes as these can irritate the skin. Use warm water and a soft cloth to clean the skin and stoma.

There are many different providers and options to try when caring for your ostomy and stoma, and finding the right fit is a process for everyone. You should consider finding a WOC nurse to help you find the best system for your needs and body.


Thriving with an Ostomy

Showering & bathing

You can shower or take a bath with the pouching system either on or off whether you have a colostomy, ileostomy, or urostomy.

The water from the bath or shower should not loosen or force the system to fall off. Don’t worry about covering the system to protect it from water.


Because pouching systems are designed to rest flat against your body, keeping them discrete under your clothing is not as difficult as it may seem at first glance. 

Still, there are a variety of clothing options available that are specifically designed for those living with an ostomy.


Some people living with an ostomy may not be able to continue working in a role that requires frequent heavy lifting. But aside from that, you should be able to return to work following your recovery from ostomy surgery, and it shouldn’t hinder most roles or working environments.


With a colostomy or ileostomy, you may need to make some changes to your diet. A urostomy should not affect your eating habits.

Speaking to a dietician is recommended, as they can recommend specific foods and nutritional resources to help you continue to enjoy what you eat without compromising your ostomy.


While you shouldn’t do any heavy lifting for at least three months following surgery, an ostomy should not hinder your physical activity. This allows the muscles and stitching to heal properly.

You might consider consulting a physiotherapist about the best way to safely return to your normal activities following surgery.


You should be able to travel as usual following ostomy surgery. Air travel will not affect the pouch as the cabins are pressurized. 

A good practice is to travel with more supplies than you typically need, and carry them on instead of checking them with your luggage.





General Disclaimer
This information is designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.