Five Common Questions About Ostomies Answered

Woman with Ostomy

In honor of Ostomy Awareness Day on October 7, we are delving into a topic relevant to many people in the IBD community. It's estimated that between 725,000 and 1 million people in the U.S. live with an ostomy and many of them are Crohn’s or colitis patients.


Ostomy surgery is a procedure that allows stool to pass through a surgically created opening in the body called a stoma to discharge bodily waste. Your stoma is the part of the bowel (small or large intestine) that pokes out of your abdominal wall and provides an opening for waste to pass out of. The waste is then collected from your stoma into an external ostomy pouch like a bag or an appliance that is adhered to your abdomen on the outside of your body.


Having ostomy surgery can significantly improve the quality of life of IBD patients, marked by fewer hospitalizations and less pain. But this procedure is often surrounded by many questions and concerns.


Here are answers to some of the common questions surrounding ostomies.


How Common Are Ostomies?

Approximately 1 in 500 Americans navigate life with an ostomy. Some call themselves “ostomates.” Ostomy surgery is a life-saving procedure often necessitated by conditions like IBD, colon cancer, anal fistulas, diverticulitis, and certain types of incontinence.


What Is the Difference Between Ileostomy and Colostomy?

Ileostomies and colostomies are surgical procedures aimed at redirecting a portion of the intestines to an external opening in the abdominal wall, facilitating the exit of waste from the body. The primary distinction between them lies in the section of the intestines they involve; an ileostomy is associated with the small intestine while a colostomy pertains to the large intestine. The need for either procedure may arise from various medical conditions.


Despite the similarities, ileostomies and colostomies are tailored for different health conditions and have slightly dissimilar recovery durations. The objective of both procedures is to create an alternate route for waste elimination and ensure a person’s health while addressing their gastrointestinal challenges. The differences in procedures may influence aspects of life post-surgery, such as dietary restrictions and the ostomy.


Is the Procedure Reversible?

Some people who have had a colostomy or ileostomy will live with an ostomy permanently. Others may use a temporary ostomy after their surgery. The possibility of reversing an ostomy largely depends on someone’s medical condition and the type of ostomy. Talk to your doctor get a better idea of what to expect in terms of reversal.


What Can I Eat with an Ostomy?

Dietary adjustments are part of living with an ostomy. Initially, it's advisable to stick to bland, low-fiber foods for the first few weeks after your surgery to allow the intestines to heal. Gradually, a wider variety of foods can be reintroduced under medical guidance. Monitoring how different foods affect the body and the ostomy output will help you understand and manage your dietary restrictions.


The Foundation has guidelines for eating with an ostomy including:


  • Eat five to six small well-balanced meals daily instead of three large meals to reduce gas.
  • Eat slowly and chew your food well.
  • Avoid foods with a tough texture that are difficult to breakdown such as celery, grapes, raisins, and mushrooms.
  • Replace fried and greasy foods with low-fat alternatives like air-fried or baked foods.
  • Avoid artificial sweeteners like sorbitol and highly sugary foods and beverages.
  • Stay hydrated by drinking 8-10 glasses of fluids throughout the day.


Can I Still Lead a Full Life with an Ostomy?

Absolutely! Living with an ostomy requires some lifestyle adjustments, but it does not stop people from leading full, active lives. Engaging in social activities, dating, exercising, and choosing fashionable clothing are all possible. The Foundation offers support groups and other resources for navigating life with an ostomy.


Ostomies may initially seem overwhelming, but with the right information and support, individuals can continue to lead fulfilling lives.


You can make an impact on IBD cures! Please consider making a donation to the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation.