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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.
  • A stoma may be needed if you've had a section of your bowel removed.
  • Most stomas are temporary and can be removed with surgery.
  • Around 46,000 Australians live with a stoma and are able to maintain a good quality of life.

What is a stoma (or, 'ostomy')?

When 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, most are able to maintain a normal quality of life.

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

Most 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 are able to manage their stoma as part of their daily hygiene routine.

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.

Diet

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.

Travel

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


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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

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Stoma after ileostomy or colostomy - Better Health Channel

A stoma is an artificially created hole (stoma) in the abdomen so that faeces can still leave the body.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

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