Having a colostomy or ileostomy

A colostomy and ileostomy are openings of the bowel onto the surface of the tummy (abdomen). You wear a bag over the opening to collect the poo.

You might have a colostomy or ileostomy after some types of surgery involving the bowel.

What is a colostomy?

A colostomy is an operation to create an opening (stoma) of the large bowel (colon) onto the surface of the tummy (abdomen).

Your poo no longer passes out of your body through your back passage. Instead, it passes out through the stoma. You wear a bag that sticks onto the skin over the stoma to collect your poo.

Diagram showing a colostomy with a bag

When you might have a colostomy

Some people with bowel cancer need to have a colostomy after their surgery. Most of these will be temporary. It is usually closed a few months later when the bowel has fully healed. But sometimes they may be permanent. 

People having surgery for vaginal cancer, cervical cancer, or womb cancer that has spread to surrounding tissue may need to have a big operation called a pelvic exenteration. This operation involves having a permanent colostomy.

There might be other situations with other types of cancers where you need to have a colostomy. But it is not common.

Photo showing one type of colostomy bag
Photo showing the back of a colostomy bag
Photo showing the back of a colostomy bag

What is an ileostomy?

An ileostomy is an opening (stoma) of the small bowel (ileum) onto the surface of the tummy (abdomen).

When you have an ileostomy your poo comes out through the stoma. It is collected in a bag that sticks over the stoma. The poo is usually liquid rather than solid.

Diagram of an ileostomy with a bag

Why you might have an ileostomy

You might have a temporary ileostomy with surgery to remove part of the large bowel (colon). This is to give your colon time to rest and heal after surgery. Your surgeon joins the ends of the bowel back together in another operation. This is called a stoma reversal. Your surgeon will tell you when you are likely to have this operation.

You might need a permanent ileostomy if your surgeon has to remove a large part of your colon and can’t join the remaining ends of colon together. Your surgeon will avoid this if at all possible.

The stoma nurse

Stoma nurses are experienced in looking after stomas (ileostomies and colostomies) and teaching you how to look after them. A specialist stoma nurse will visit you on the ward to help you and show you what to do.

The stoma nurse will see you on the day of the operation. They use a pen to mark where a stoma might be created. For the first few days after your operation they 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 some 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 a stoma takes time and it can be worrying at first. But you won't 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 stoma bag together in one place. That way, you won't be half way through and realise that something vital is missing.

Continence organisations and stoma suppliers

There are organisations to help you cope with having a colostomy or ileostomy. They can offer practical advice and support. 

The Bladder and Bowel Community supports people living with bladder and bowel disorders and has a telephone helpline. The service is confidential. They can also give you information about stoma products.

They have a 'Just Can't Wait' card which allows holders access to toilets in shops and when you are out. It's free to order on the website.

Forward House
17 High Street
B95 5AA

Home Delivery Service Sign Up: 0800 031 5406

Home Delivery Service Existing Customers: 0800 031 5407

Email: help@bladderandbowel.org

Coloplast Charter

Delivers supplies of prescription colostomy and ileostomy equipment to people's homes.

England & Wales: 0800 132 787
Scotland: 0800 917 8639
Northern Ireland: 0800 581 220

Email: help@charter.co.uk


Delivers supplies of prescription colostomy and ileostomy equipment. Also gives information on all areas of stoma care. Has a helpline for anyone who has a stoma.

Tel: 0800 282 254
Email: stoma.webcare@convatec.com


A company that provides products for people with stomas. They have a delivery service for prescribed appliances.

Tel: 0800 521377 (Customer Care team)

Ostomy Covers by Linda

Handcrafted covers made to fit every size of ostomy bag or pouch following surgery resulting in a stoma such as an ileostomy, colostomy or urostomy. The covers come in a wide range of fabrics and are specifically tailored to fit each individual stoma bag.
Telephone: 01205 723327
Email: lindabutler59@hotmail.com

  • Colorectal cancer: diagnosis and management
    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), 2011 (updated 2021)

  • Localised colon cancer: ESMO Clinical Practice Guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up
    G Argilés and others
    Annals of Oncology, 2020. Volume 31, Issue 10 Pages 1291-1305

Last reviewed: 
15 Dec 2022
Next review due: 
15 Dec 2025

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