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Colostomy / Ileostomy

There are times during colon surgery that it may be necessary for the surgeon to create an ostomy. An ostomy is a surgically created opening, usually in the abdominal wall for the discharge of body wastes. The intestines are “re routed” so that instead of the stool passing through the colon and out the rectum, there is and opening for effluent to pass through the abdominal wall and in to an external pouch. The opening that is seen on the abdominal wall is called a stoma.

Ostomies can also involve any part of the small or large intestine. They can also, in the case of urinary bladder cancers, be formed to collect urine.

The portion of the intestine that is brought out to the abdomen determines whether or not the patient has a colostomy or an ileostomy. A colostomy is created when a portion of the colon is brought out to abdominal wall. The term ileostomy is used when a portion of the small intestine is used to form the stoma. Colostomy out put is generally more formed and regular, whereas that of an ileostomy is more frequent and semi formed.

Ostomies can be either temporary or permanent, depending on the situation. Temporary ostomies are utilized when the surgeon is concerned with the possibility of an anastomotic leak forming post operatively (see section on colon cancer/diverticulitis). In this case the stool is temporarily diverted in order to give the anastomosis (internal suture line) a chance to heal. The temporary ostomy is generally reversed, after testing, approximately 3 months after the initial surgery. Permanent ostomies may be necessary when there is a low rectal cancer, or when the patient cannot withstand a second surgery for closure.

The idea of having an ostomy can be a very emotional consideration for many patients. It is important to understand that ostomates (persons who have Ostomies) can and do live normal lives. Once over the recuperative phase of surgery most people with ostomies do everything they were able to do before. There is a learning curve that has to be met before feeling secure, but taking care of an ostomy is not hard and there is no one right way to manage it. It is important to remember that the ostomy must fit in to your life; you do not change your life to revolve around the ostomy. Once learning the basics, most people go on to figure out what works best for them.

No one should refuse potentially life saving surgery simply because they do not want to “wear a bag”. In fact, many times the creation of a colostomy or ileostomy can actually improve the quality of a patient’s life. This is particularly true in someone with a history of severe colitis or fecal incontinence where planning daily activities must always include knowing where the nearest bathroom facilities are.

There are many different types of appliances/pouches available and Wound, ostomy & Continence (WOCN) nurses can help with the selection. WOCN’s are registered nurses who specialize in the care of patients who have undergone ostomy surgery. Having access to a WOCN is crucial pre and post operatively. WOCN nurses can help with stoma placement pre Operative so that the ostomy does not interfere with clothing and is also critical in helping with appliance selection post operatively

Appliances are like any other type of clothing or prosthesis; they must be fitted to the patient to ensure optimum success. Sometimes initially after surgery, when there are still sutures and abdominal swelling, there may be a temporary problem with fit but that should never be accepted as “normal”.

The United ostomy Association of America and the Wound, ostomy & Continence Nurses Society are two organizations who provide support and education for ostomy patients.



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Our family wishes to express our heartfelt appreciation for the kindness, excellent care and wisdom our mother, Jean Broussard, received during her hospitalization.

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