Fact or fiction? 8 truths about ostomy pouching systems
Published: March 21, 2022
Of all the surgical procedures and medical devices available, few are more stigmatized than ostomy surgery.
Ostomy surgery diverts waste from the intestines to a pouch outside your body. If you or someone you love is undergoing ostomy surgery or living with an ostomy, knowing the facts can help fight the stigma surrounding these life-saving devices and prepare you and your loved ones to live a whole, healthy life.
Here are a few facts about ostomies:
Fact #1: Ostomies are pretty common
Hundreds of thousands of people in the US have them. There are many reasons a person might have ostomy surgery and need to wear an ostomy pouch. For example, maybe they injured their bowel or have a severe infection. Other reasons include colon cancer, Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis.
Fact #2: Ostomies are discreet
If you thought ostomies were uncommon, this might be why. Wearers can easily conceal their ostomy pouch beneath clothing (including swimwear). And they come in different sizes. So, while you may use a larger one overnight to prevent sleep disruptions, smaller ones can be worn throughout the day and changed more frequently, allowing for even more discretion.
Fact #3: Ostomies can improve quality of life
In most cases, an ostomy won’t interfere with your daily activities. You can still travel, exercise, swim, and do what you love. During ostomy surgery, a surgeon will create an opening in your abdomen, called a stoma, to access a portion of the intestine. Waste can then exit the body through the stoma, where an ostomy pouch collects it. As a result, ostomies can make it easier for some people to eat healthfully and live comfortably. So, ostomies improve rather than impede their quality of life for many patients.
Fact #4: Ostomies are odorless
No, they don’t smell. Ostomy pouches are designed to be odor-proof.
You can throw out some ostomy bags after a single use. And you can reuse others—just empty the waste into a toilet, clean the pouch, and re-attach it. Whichever pouch system you choose, changing or emptying your ostomy often can help prevent leaks and ensure that odors stay trapped within the pouch. You can even add a deodorizing tablet for added peace of mind.
Fact #5: You don’t have to change the way you eat
An ostomy may actually make it easier for you to enjoy the foods you love.
During your recovery from surgery, your doctor may recommend changes to your diet. But in the long run, having an ostomy shouldn’t inhibit your food choices. Many patients with ostomies can digest food more easily post-surgery.
If you’ve recently had ostomy surgery, talk to your doctor or a dietitian about the best foods to eat while you heal. You may want to begin with a liquid diet and re-introduce foods one at a time until your body adjusts to your new digestion process.
Fact #6: Ostomies can be temporary
Ostomy pouches are not always permanent. Depending on your condition and your surgery, you may only need to use an ostomy pouch while your bowel heals—that could be for just months or weeks. However, you may need an ostomy for years, long-term, or permanently in some cases. Check with your doctor to determine what your condition or surgery recovery will require.
Fact #7: You don’t need a new wardrobe
Ostomies can be hidden under most clothing. Though loose or high-waisted clothes may be more comfortable, you can still wear form-fitting clothes with an ostomy. You can even use special accessories, like bands and belts, to keep your pouch in place and hidden. So, it’s unlikely that you’ll need to buy a lot of new clothes to cover your ostomy—unless you want to.
Fact #8: You can still date
Romance is possible with an ostomy! But, as in any partnership, communication is essential. You may want to have one or more conversations about your ostomy before you begin or re-engage in intimacy. And you may find that you and your partner prefer different activities and positions with the addition of your pouch. So, work together to find what works for you to have a safe and fulfilling relationship.
In most cases, an ostomy will not inhibit your daily life and can even contribute to your well-being. However, be sure to ask your doctor if you feel unsure or not confident about your choices. And you can always find more information and community support here on our blog.
Anne Whittaker is a freelance writer located in Los Angeles.