The word “stoma” may conjure up all sorts of scary thoughts but having a stoma isn’t the end of the world. In fact, it’s a priceless gift – giving many men, women, and even children, a new chance at life! Often life-threatening or debilitating illnesses or conditions such as bowel cancer, bladder cancer, inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s Disease or Ulcerative Colitis), diverticulitis, or an obstruction to the bladder or bowel, is the reason why a stoma is needed.
A stoma can be temporary or permanent depending on the cause, and it’s important to discuss all options available with your doctor before having a stoma so you are aware of why a stoma is needed, how a stoma will affect your life, and whether your stoma can – or can’t – be reversed.
For more on your rights as an ostomy patient, click here.
What is a stoma?
A stoma is an opening on the abdomen that can be connected to either your digestive or urinary system to allow waste (urine or faeces) to be diverted out of your body. It looks like a small, pinkish, circular piece of flesh that is sewn to your body. It may lie fairly flat to your body or protrude out.
Over the top of your stoma, you will wear a pouch, which can either be closed or have an opening at the bottom. Your stoma has no nerve endings so you should feel no pain from it.
Stoma vs Ostomy
Contrary to what some may believe a stoma is not the same thing as an ostomy. An ostomy refers to the surgically created opening in the body for the discharge of body wastes. A stoma is the actual end of the ureter or small or large bowel that can be seen protruding through the abdominal wall.
There are three main types of ostomy
A colostomy is when a part of your large bowel or colon is pulled through from an incision made on your abdomen to form a stoma. There are two types of colostomy that can be formed.
End Colostomy – where one end of the colon is pulled through and sewn to your abdomen. This can be permanent or temporary. The other part of the diseased bowel is usually either removed or allowed to heal before being joined back up together
Loop Colostomy – this is when a looped portion of your colon is pulled through to your abdomen. An incision is made in the loop and then sewn to your stomach with a rod to keep it above surface level. A loop colostomy is usually a temporary measure performed in emergency operation and will be reversed a few weeks/months down the line
An ileostomy is when part of your small bowel (the ileum) is pulled through an incision made on your abdomen to form a stoma. There are two types of ileostomy that can be formed.
End Ileostomy – where one end of the ileum is pulled through and sewn to your abdomen. This can be permanent or temporary. The other part of the diseased bowel is usually either removed or allowed to heal before being joined back up together
Loop Ileostomy – this is when a looped portion of your ileum is pulled through to your abdomen. An incision is made in the loop and then sewn to your stomach with a rod to keep it above surface level. A loop ileostomy is usually a temporary measure performed in emergency operation and will be reversed a few weeks/months down the line
A urostomy is formed when your bladder is removed due to disease such as bladder cancer. A small piece of your bowel will be pulled through an incision made through your abdomen and sewn to your stomach to form a stoma. The ureters will then be detached from the bladder and attached to the piece of bowel to form the urostomy.
Different pouching systems
Some people who have a colostomy prefer to keep the same pouching system they had when they left the hospital. Others may choose to go with a different brand or type over time. This is usually due to personal preference. The truth is that there many different colostomy products out there, including one-piece and two-piece systems. The best thing to do is explore your options and speak with your nurse or doctor about what system might work best for you.
Read about Convex Ostomy Skin Barrier Myths. Click here
Adapting to life after a stoma
While it takes time to become comfortable with wearing a pouch, the good news is that you can still enjoy all the things you used to enjoy before – pouch and all! Having a stoma shouldn’t prevent you from exercising, doing your favourite hobby, embarking on holidays, trips, or outings, having intimate relationships, eating your favourite foods, wearing different clothing, or even swimming.