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Before ostomy surgery

It's natural to have a lot of questions before ostomy surgery. Having an operation is hard physically and can be an emotional experience. Being well prepared can help you to know what to expect.

This section covers questions many people have on ostomy surgery as well as providing information on support and community.

Skip forward to 'After ostomy surgery' (0-3 months after surgery)
Skip forward to 'Living with an ostomy' (3+ months after surgery)

Learn about the types of stoma and the digestive and urinary system

What is a stoma?

A stoma is the result of an operation to remove disease such as cancer, Crohn's disease or diverticulitis - or from a bowel obstruction or injury to the digestive or urinary system. It is an artificial opening that allows faeces or urine either from the intestine or from the urinary tract to pass.

There are three main types of stoma related to the digestive and urinary system - these are: colostomy, ileostomy and urostomy.

Ostomate applying their ostomy pouch

Why do I need to wear an ostomy pouch?

An ostomy pouch is necessary to securely and conveniently collect the output from your stoma. Practical information about wearing an ostomy pouch

Why do I need to wear an ostomy pouch?

No matter what type of ostomy you have, all the output from the stoma must be collected in a secure and convenient way. That’s where your ostomy pouch comes in. These are designed to adhere to the skin on your abdomen around your stoma and collect the output.

Secure and discreet

The design of your ostomy pouch will depend on whether you have a colostomy, ileostomy or urostomy. Your stoma care nurse will show you which one is right for you, but the overwhelming majority of pouches are secure and discreet. Nobody will know you’re wearing one unless you decide to tell them.

Although it can be difficult at first to accept the fact that you will have to wear an ostomy pouch on your stomach, you should soon start to realise that it’s possible to live much as you did before.

Changing your pouch

How often you change or empty your pouch depends on the type of stoma you have:

  • Colostomy: The pouch needs to be changed between one and three times a day, depending on the amount of output.
  • Ileostomy: The pouch needs to be drained several times a day.
  • Urostomy: The pouch needs to be drained several times a day. During the night, a urostomy bag or a small urostomy appliance can be attached to a night bag so you don’t need to get up to drain your bag.

Learn more about applying an ostomy pouch

Animated front profile of an abdomen with a stoma

What does a stoma look and feel like?

A stoma is usually moist and pinkish-red, and will stick out slightly from your abdomen. Stoma look and feel

What does a stoma look and feel like?

After surgery, your stoma may be quite swollen to begin with, but will reduce in size over time – usually after six to eight weeks.

No sensation, no pain

A stoma is red in colour. This is because it is a mucous membrane, just like the mucous membrane inside your mouth. There is no sensation in the stoma, so it is not at all painful to touch.  The stoma can bleed a little when being cleaned, especially in the beginning, but this is quite normal, and should stop shortly afterwards.


Learn about your stoma and how it may affect your daily life

Diagram of the human digestive system

The digestive and urinary system

Understanding the digestive and urinary system will help you to understand how your stoma will function.

Learn more

Understanding your digestive and urinary system

The digestive system

The digestive systemThe stomach
When you eat, the food travels down a long, narrow tube called the food pipe into your stomach. Here, the food is churned into smaller pieces and your digestive juices turn it into liquid.

The small bowels
The journey continues as the contents of your stomach move into the small bowel (ileum), where digestion finishes. Your body absorbs the nutrients it needs for energy, growth and building new cells and channels these into the bloodstream.

The large bowel
When all nutrition has been absorbed, the remains move into the large bowel (colon), where your body absorbs more fluid to make the waste more solid. The muscles in your colon wall then push any waste forward into your rectum, where it passes out of your body through your anus, with the aid of the sphincter muscles, as stool.


The urinary system

The urinary systemUrine is made by your kidneys and travels down two tubes called the ureters to your bladder. Urine is produced all the time, but it is stored in your bladder until you get a sense that you need to urinate. The urine then passes out of your body through the urethra.

Ostomate smiling with the partner

How your stoma might affect daily life

It will take time to adjust to life with a stoma. But there’s no reason why it should stop you doing the things you already do, from sports to socializing. Daily life with a stoma

Wondering how your stoma might affect daily life?

After your stoma operation you will need some time to recover. This is perfectly normal, and the time needed will vary from person to person. Your stoma will change in the first weeks following surgery, in terms of both size and output. Also, you might lose or gain weight in these weeks.

Get started with a pouch
Having a stoma means you have no control over when you defecate or, in the case of a urostomy, when you urinate. This means that you always need to wear a pouch to collect your output.

Healthy skin
In order for your pouch to adhere properly, it is very important to keep the skin around your stoma healthy. When the pouch is attached correctly, there is no risk of smell from your stoma and less risk of skin irritation. Before you leave hospital, you will be trained in how to choose and manage your stoma pouch and how to take care of your skin.

What about food and drink?
In general you can eat and drink as normal. Try to see how your stoma reacts to different foods. Your stoma care nurse, surgeon or physician will advise if you need to take special precautions.

In general, your stoma is no hindrance to working, socializing, playing sports, travelling or other hobbies. Your general state of health – physically as well as mentally – will play a big role in determining your quality of life as you move forward.

Talk about it
Talk about itNothing is more helpful than someone who really understands what you are going through. You are certainly not alone – the number of people with a stoma worldwide is 1.9 million. Your local patient organization is one way of meeting peers to get handy tips, inspiration and personal support.


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