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An ostomy is a surgically created opening connecting an internal organ to the skin. The most common types of ostomies are an ileostomy (connecting the ileal part of the small intestine to the abdominal wall) and a colostomy (connecting the colon, or large intestine, to the abdominal wall).

A temporary ostomy may be required if the intestinal tract has blockage and can’t be properly prepared for surgery or to “protect” an anastomosis. A temporary ostomy may also be created to allow inflammation or an operative site to heal without contamination by stool. Temporary ostomies can usually be reversed with minimal or no loss of intestinal function.

A permanent ostomy may be required for impaired intestinal function or when the muscles that control elimination do not work properly or require removal.

An ostomy appliance, or pouch, is designed to catch eliminated fecal material (stool). The disposable pouch is made of plastic and is held to the body by an adhesive to create a moisture barrier. It is changed as needed. This system is quite secure; accidents are not common, and the pouches are odor-free.

UT Southwestern Medical Center’s enterostomal nurses will teach you and your family how to change the ostomy appliance and care for the stoma before you are discharged from the hospital. These specialized therapy nurses are also available to meet with you prior to your surgery to provide a hands-on demonstration of your ostomy appliance and answer any questions you may have. You will be given detailed instructions and literature.

Bowel Movements

Your bowel movements will naturally empty into the pouch. The frequency and quantity of your bowel movements will vary, depending on the type of ostomy you have, your diet, and your bowel habits prior to surgery. You may be instructed to modify your eating habits to control the frequency and consistency of your bowel movements. If the ostomy is a colostomy, you’ll learn irrigation techniques that allow for increased control over the timing of bowel movements.

Daily Activities

An ostomy is easily hidden by typical clothing. All usual activities, including active sports and sexual activity, may be resumed once you have completely healed from surgery.

Placement of the Ostomy

A colostomy is usually placed to the left of your navel while an ileostomy is usually placed to the right.