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Having an ileostomy

Read about having an ileostomy and find out what support is available to help you look after your stoma.

What is an ileostomy

The small bowel is called the ileum. An opening onto the skin from inside the body is called a stoma. Your surgeon stitches the end of the small bowel to a hole cut in your skin of your tummy (abdomen). This is called an ileostomy. Your poo passes out through the stoma. You wear a bag stuck onto the skin over the stoma to collect your poo. It will be a mixture of bowel liquid, semi solid poo and some wind. 

What an ileostomy looks like

The stoma is round or oval and looks moist and red, like the inside of your mouth. Your stoma will stand out from your skin, usually by a few centimetres. This creates a spout, which helps stop the bowel liquid from irritating your skin. The stoma does not hurt because it has no nerve supply. So you must be careful not to injure it because you won't be able to feel if you have done any damage. 

The stoma is swollen just after the operation but will get smaller. You wear a bag stuck to the skin over the stoma to collect the poo (stools). The stoma also oozes a white mucus. This is normal and the mucus collects in the bag with your poo (stools). 

ileostomy with a bag

Temporary ileostomy

Some people with bowel cancer have a temporary ileostomy. This allows time for the bowel to heal after the cancer is removed. 

A few months later you have another operation to rejoin the bowel and close the stoma. This is called reversing the ileostomy. 

The stoma nurse

Stoma nurses are experienced in looking after stomas (ileostomies and colostomies) and teaching you how to look after them. A nurse will visit you on the ward to show you what to do. For the first few days after your operation the stoma nurse will help you look after and clean the stoma, and change the bags. They will also help you to find which type of stoma bag is the best for you.

Your stoma nurse will give you stoma bags to take home. You get more from the chemist or a local stockist. Supplies are free, but you need a prescription from your GP. 

Looking after your stoma

Learning to look after an ileostomy takes time and it can be worrying at first. But you will not be expected to cope on your own. You will find that it gets easier with time. 

It is helpful to keep everything you need to change your ileostomy together in a bag or in one place. That way, you won't be halfway through and realise that something vital is missing. 

Going home with an ileostomy

Talk to your stoma nurse or ward nurses about the kind of support you will need at home. Before you leave hospital you might want the stoma nurse to show your relatives how to look after the ileostomy. They can help out when you get home. 

Your stoma nurse will give you a contact number before you leave the hospital. You can ring them for advice and support, and the nurse may arrange to visit you at home. Or a district nurse may visit for a few days to make sure you are coping. 

Information and help

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About Cancer generously supported by Dangoor Education since 2010.