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Living with an Ostomy

When your body can't get rid of waste in the normal way, you may need an ostomy. This can happen because of a disease or a medical procedure. An ostomy is an opening that is created surgically somewhere on the body to help get rid of stool or urine. The waste is collected in a removable bag, called a pouch. The pouch is on the outside of the body and can be emptied as needed.

Ostomies often get confused with stomas. But they are different medical terms. Ostomy means the opening itself. Stoma refers to the end of the ureter or bowel that often has to stick out slightly through the ostomy in order for urine or feces to leave the body.

Ostomy types

Ostomies come in many different types. The most common is a colostomy. This is when part of the colon or rectum needs to be removed. In this procedure, an opening is made in the belly (abdominal) wall. A remaining part of bowel is connected to it for the stool. Colostomies can be short-term (temporary) or lifelong (permanent). They have subtypes, depending on where the colostomy is made. These include sigmoid or descending, transverse, loop, and ascending. An ileostomy is a similar type of procedure done on the ileum. The ileum is part of the small intestine.

All ostomies include a pouch and a wafer that helps protect the skin from irritation.

The challenges of an ostomy

When you need an ostomy, you may face a number of complex lifestyle challenges. Your concerns may be about the health and hygiene issues of caring for yourself. But you'll also have emotional and psychological concerns.

It's vital to understand how to remove waste from the pouch and how to keep the ostomy clean and infection-free. After the ostomy is done, your healthcare provider and an ostomy nurse will take you through the process. You should learn the steps as soon as possible. This way you'll know how to protect yourself. Regular waste removal, cleaning, and care of the ostomy and ostomy pouch will help prevent accidents and embarrassment. This will also protect your health.

Emotional and psychological issues may be harder to deal with. Different people will react to the ostomy in different ways. Some people will do fine. But others may go into a phase of denial, in which they don't acknowledge its existence. Still others may become depressed. Joining a support group or online group of other people who have an ostomy can greatly relieve the isolation and unhappiness you may feel at first.

Having an ostomy can be hard to accept. But it's important to work closely with your healthcare team. That way, your healthcare providers can tell you about the changes happening to your body. They can also tell you how the ostomy will change (and not change) your daily life. People who have an ostomy may find that they don't need to tell many people about it. They just keep it to themselves. Depending on how close you feel to certain people, you can choose what you want to share.

An ostomy is a medical need that may be hard to adjust to at first. With the help of support groups, counselors, and your primary healthcare team, you can make the transition to living with an ostomy and get back to a full, active life. 

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