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Living with a Stoma

What is a stoma and what does it look like? For more information about how living, dressing and washing with a stoma, we have summarised the most important points.

Definition of a Stoma

A stoma is the temporary or permanent opening of the abdomen, often done in the case of colon or rectum cancer. It is often referred to as a colostomy, which is a deviation of the colon, or an Ileostomy, which is located at the same level as the small intestine (Ileum). The stools are collected in a bag placed at the same level as the stomach. Different types exist: Right-sided colostomy, left-sided colostomy, and also, a loop colostomy. A temporary stoma means that after treatment, your intestine will be reattached in the operating room.

What Does a Stoma Look Like?

A stoma is a small red mucous membrane (it looks a bit like a raspberry), that slightly sticks out of the abdominal wall. Touching a stoma is not painful at all, or is it sensitive. A stoma may start bleeding slightly during treatments, especially at the beginning. This is completely normal and should stop quickly. The skin around the stoma can become irritated due to the glue used for the ostomy bag, but different creams and skin barrier rings exist to protect the skin, which you will find at your local chemist.

Living With a Stoma

Having a stoma is very difficult to live with psychologically. A lot of questions are running through your head: how will I clean myself with a stoma? When should I empty my ostomy bag? Do I need to change my diet? How can I avoid flatulence and odours? Can I have sexual intercourse with a stoma?

Living with an ostomy bag does not come naturally and to help you adapt, you will find below some answers to your many questions:

How Do I Wash Myself? How Do I Wash My Stoma?

Do not be afraid to wash yourself: baths and showers will pose no problem at all as the stoma equipment is waterproof.

The easiest way is to wash yourself before eating, on an empty stomach so there is no risk of seeping. That way, you can remove the bag and base to let your skin breathe.

To avoid any localised irritations, use a gentle soap that is alcohol-free and fragrance-free.

When drying yourself, gently pat dry your stoma and avoid rubbing it. Remove any trace of humidity before replacing your ostomy bag.

How Do I Empty My Bag?

To empty a colostomy bag, you will just need to open the bottom of the bag over the toilet and let the stools fall out through this opening. If the bag is very full, it is best to change the bag directly.

To empty an ileostomy bag, it is best to position yourself over the toilet and empty the bag via the opening at the bottom.

When the bag is empty, you can wipe clean the opening and close it.

On the majority of bags there is a filter at the top to hide any odours. If the filter is dirty, you will need to change the bag, but not necessarily the base.

What Should I Wear With My Stoma?

Avoid clothes that are tight around the waist. Opt for elastic material so that your stoma and bag are not constricted.

Special underwear exist to help you feel more confident around other people.

For Women, opt for empire waisted dresses (tight under breasts, loose at the bottom) or loose tops.

For Men, it is best to wear shirts instead of polos or t-shirts.

What Can I Do With My Stoma?

Avoid carrying anything heavy that can weaken your abdominal belt and avoid any contact sports (Rugby, Martial Arts…) as it can hurt your stoma.

Do not be afraid of swimming at the beach or in the swimming pool. You can use an ostomy plug or waterproof plaster that should be put on 10 minutes before going in the water. It is recommended to go in the late morning and/or late afternoon (after digestion has finished).

You can also wear your bag while swimming, but make sure you dry it correctly afterwards. The equipment is waterproof and resistant to chlorine and salt.

Which Foods Can I Eat When I Have a Stoma?

There is no particular diet to follow, but you should eat healthy and well-balanced foods and drink at least 1.5 to 2 litres a day. Rice is often the chosen staple food for stoma patients.

Avoid any gas-producing foods, such as cabbage, mushrooms, artichokes and onions. Change your bag if it starts to inflate as this means that the filter is saturated.

Avoid fatty foods, spinach, spicy foods, soft drinks, hot drinks and ice creams that tend to accelerate the digestion.

Fermented cheeses, gamey meats and cold meats are foods that make your bowel movements smelly. Black pudding, spinach and iron-based medication turn stools black (which is not dangerous).

To reduce odours, you can place deodorising tablets or liquids in your stoma bag. You can also eat and drink yoghurts, cranberry juice or fresh parsley.

Can I Travel With a Stoma?

Having a stoma should not stop you from travelling. Just remember to bring enough changes.

If you are travelling by plane, make sure you change or empty your bag right before take off. It will not burst or detach itself from the pressure. If you have a long flight, remember to bring a change and to cut everything before hand, as your scissors will be confiscated.

Stoma and Sex

Having a sex life is possible. Do not hesitate to hide or dress up your ostomy bag. However, it is not recommended to use the stoma during sexual intercourse, as there is a risk of damaging it.