Having a colostomy or ileostomy

A colostomy is an opening of the large bowel onto the surface of the tummy (abdomen). You wear a bag over the opening, to collect the waste matter from digestion that would normally be passed from the body as a bowel motion (stool).

Diagram showing a colostomy with a bag

Some people with bowel cancer need to have a colostomy. Most of these will be temporary. They will be closed a few months later, when the bowel has fully healed.

Women with vaginal cancer, or cervical cancer that has spread outside the womb, 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.

Why you might have an ileostomy

You might have a temporary ileostomy with surgery to remove part of the colon. This is to give your colon time to rest and heal after surgery. Your surgeon joins the ends of the colon 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.

Diagram of an ileostomy with a bag

The stoma nurse

Stoma nurses are experienced in looking after stomas (ileostomies and colostomies) and teaching you how to look after them. A specialist 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.

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 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 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

Continence organisations

Bladder and Bowel Foundation
SATRA Innovation Park
Rockingham Road
NN16 9JH

Phone: 01536 533255
Nurse helpline: 0845 345 0165
Email: help@bladderandbowel.org
Website: https://www.bladderandbowel.org/

The Bladder and Bowel Foundation formed in 2008 from the former organisations Incontact and the Continence Foundation. It supports people living with bladder and bowel disorders.They have a confidential telephone helpline which is staffed by specialist continence nurses and physiotherapists. They can also give you information about stoma products. Has a 'Just can't wait' card to allow holders access to toilets in shops and pubs etc.

Medical Advisory Service
PO Box 3087
London W4 4ZP

General Medical Helpline: 020 8994 9874 (Monday to Friday, 6pm to 8pm)
Email: office@medicaladvisoryservice.org.uk
Website: www.medicaladvisoryservice.org.uk

The Medical Advisory Service offers information and advice on medical and health care matters.

Suppliers of stoma appliances

Charter Care Delivered
The Links

Phone: 0800 587 4047 or 03301 233188 from a mobile
Email: help@coloplastcharter.co.uk
Website: www.coloplastcharter.co.uk/

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

Convatec Ltd
Stoma Customer Care
Unit 20, First Avenue - Deeside Industrial Park
Telephone for stoma care: 0800 282254 (Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm)
Email: stoma.webcare@convatec.com
Website: www.convatec.co.uk/stoma-care

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.

Hollister Ltd
Rectory Court
42 Broad Street
RG40 1AB

Phone: 0800 521377 (Customer Care team)
Website: www.hollister.com/uk/ostomy/

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

Ostomy Covers by Linda
Linda Butler
2 Holmes Road
Kirton End
PE20 1SP

Phone: 01205 723327
Email: lindabutler59@hotmail.com
Website: www.ostomycoversbylinda.co.uk

Handcrafted covers made to fit every size of ostomy bag or pouch following surgery resulting in a stoma, for example ileostomy, colostomy or urostomy. The covers come in a wide range of fabrics and are specifically tailored to fit each individual stoma bag.

Rusch UK
Stirling Road
Cressex Business Park
High Wycombe
HP12 3ST

Phone: 01494 532761
Fax: 01494 524650

Makers and suppliers of colostomy and ileostomy appliances and equipment.

Related links