7 October is Colostomy Awareness Day. To mark this we are looking at what it means to live with a colostomy and what support is available. Finding out you need to have a colostomy can be a daunting prospect. You are bound to experience fears and concerns. But the procedure is surprisingly common and you might be reassured to learn that people adapt quite readily to life with a colostomy.

One in 500 people lives with a stoma

Around one in 500 people in the UK lives with a stoma, which is an opening in the surface of the abdomen that has been surgically created to divert the flow of urine or faeces. A pouch is placed over the stoma to collect the output.

There are three types of stoma:

  • Colostomy which is an opening from the colon (large intestine). Output from a colostomy tends to be solid and often resembles normal poo. It typically functions between one and three times a day.
  • Ileostomy which is an opening from the ileum (small intestine). An ileostomy tends to have looser, more frequent output than a colostomy.
  • Urostomy, which is an opening for urine, usually on the right side of the abdomen.

For the purposes of this blog, we will just be focusing on the colostomy.

Why is a colostomy needed?

A colostomy is needed when a person can’t pass faeces through their anus as a result of illness, injury or problems with the digestive system. This often occurs when a section of the colon has been removed and the bowel can’t be re-joined to it.

Typically this can be as a result of bowel, anal, vaginal or cervical cancer, Crohn’s disease, diverticulitis, bowel incontinence or Hirschsprung’s disease.

People normally have an opportunity to discuss the positioning of the stoma with a specialist nurse before the operation, if it is planned in advance. Positioning of the stoma will depend on which section of your colon has been diverted but usually it is on the left hand side of your tummy below your waist.

After the operation, the stoma nurse will show you how to care for the area to keep it free from infection. The nurse will visit you at home when you leave hospital or invite you to attend the stoma care clinic. He or she will not only be able to explain the practicalities, such as different types of equipment and how to get new supplies, but also provide support to help you to adjust to life with a colostomy.

Adjusting to life with a stoma

There is no doubt that there are some adjustments to be made to life with a colostomy. But with support from the stoma nurse, it is possible to learn how to live a normal life. Modern colostomy equipment is discreet and secure and most people find they are able to continue with many of the activities that they did before they developed the symptoms that made the colostomy necessary.

You can get practical advice, support and reassurance from Colostomy UK (http://www.colostomyuk.org) which has a helpful and informative website, including blogs from people who have had a colostomy.  They will also be able to put you in touch with local stoma support groups in your area.

Working with a specialist will help ensure you have the right people helping you following your surgery. They will be able to answer your questions to reassure you and prepare you for lifestyle changes.