Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

Living with a stoma

5-minute read

Key facts

  • A stoma is a small opening in the abdomen which is used to remove body waste, such as faeces and urine, into a collection bag.
  • You might need a stoma for a variety of reasons, including if you've had a section of your bowel removed.
  • Many stomas are temporary, and can be removed with surgery, while others are permanent — what's needed depends on the medical situation.
  • Around 46,000 Australians live with a stoma and maintain a good quality of life.

What is a stoma?

When an illness involves the removal of a section of your bowel or bladder, your surgeon may need to form a hole in your abdomen called a stoma (sometimes referred to as an 'ostomy'). The stoma opening is used to remove bodily waste — faeces ('poo') or urine, in the case of a urostomy — into a small collection bag.

Your stoma will look moist and pinkish-red and will protrude slightly from a circular hole in your abdomen. Your stoma may be swollen to begin with, but usually reduces in size over time. You shouldn't feel anything in the stoma, and it shouldn’t be painful. Over time, bodily waste and gas will pass out through the stoma instead of your anus or urethra.

Living with a stoma can seem daunting at first — but you’re not alone. Around 46,000 Australians live with a stoma and, with help and support, many maintain a normal quality of life. While it may take time, there are specialist healthcare professionals who can help with the adjustment process.

When is a stoma used?

Stomas are needed by people of all ages, from newborns to older people. Stomas are needed for a variety of reasons, including:

Stomas can be created anywhere along the digestive system. Common types of stoma include:

  • colostomy — in your colon or large intestine
  • ilieostomy — in your small intestine or ileum
  • urostomy — in your small intestine, which diverts urine from your bladder

Many stomas are temporary and can be reversed with surgery. In some cases, you will need a stoma permanently — for example, if the ends of your bowel can’t be reconnected after surgery, or if your anus needs to be removed due to a tumour.

How do I manage daily life with a stoma?

While it’s not easy at first, with the right help and support most people manage their stoma as part of their daily hygiene routine. Specialist healthcare professionals can help you as you adjust to this.

Using your stoma equipment

Learning to live with your stoma may take a little time. A dedicated stoma nurse will show you how to clean your stoma and change your bag, and can offer advice. There are several different types of ileostomy, colostomy and urostomy bags, and your nurse will help you to work out which one is most suitable for you.


Immediately after surgery you may need to eat less and more often, but you should gradually build up to 3 meals a day. This helps you to regain more predictable bowel movements.

Try to maintain a well-balanced diet while including your favourite foods. Chew your food properly so that your digestive system has less work to do later on. You may want to avoid certain foods that are difficult to digest, such as peanuts.

Odour and wind

Some foods may produce more wind (flatulence, or 'gas') than others. If this bothers you, cut down on those foods. Beer is fine in moderation but may produce wind and make your stoma output more watery.

Sport and exercise

Having a stoma shouldn’t stop you from enjoying your favourite sport or physical activity. There are special supports, bags and caps you can use to cover your stoma when swimming and playing sport.


After surgery, you may have an increased risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Talk to your surgeon before any air travel, and remember to pack enough stoma-related supplies for your time away.

Sex and body image

Once your body has had time to heal from surgery, it’s OK to have sex with a stoma. Sexual intercourse won’t harm your stoma. Emptying your pouch beforehand will lower the chances of any unwanted 'accidents'.

It’s important to talk to your partner about how you feel regarding sex and intimacy. Who and how much you tell them about your stoma is entirely your choice. If you’re nervous about how your partner may react to your stoma, remember that there’s more to how they feel about you than your physical appearance.

Help and support

There is a range of support services to help Australians live well with a stoma.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: August 2020

Back To Top

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Ostomy Service | Cancer Council

Find out about the ostomy service established by Cancer Council NT to distribute stoma related aids, appliances and support to Territorians living with a stoma

Read more on Cancer Council Australia website

What is a stoma? | Cancer Council

Find out about the different types of stoma, what to expect and how to cope with living with one after cancer treatment

Read more on Cancer Council Australia website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Queensland Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Victorian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo

Healthdirect Australia acknowledges the Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and their continuing connection to land, sea and community. We pay our respects to the Traditional Owners and to Elders both past and present.