Stomas are needed when the bowels or urinary system can’t transport digestive waste any more. For example, if ovarian cancer grows on the outside of the bowel, it can cause a blockage stopping faeces from passing through the bowel towards the rectum and anus.

If this happens, it may be necessary to divert the bowel so that faeces can leave the body another way. A surgeon creates an opening in the abdomen and attaches the bowel to it so that faeces can leave the body. This is called a stoma. A bag is usually applied on top of the stoma to collect any waste as it drains. The bag is emptied and replaced regularly.

There are three different types of stoma, depending on which part of the body is being connected to the outside.

If it’s the small intestine, it’s called an ileostomy.

An opening from the large intestine is called a colostomy.

A stoma from the kidneys to drain urine is called a urostomy.

You can find more information about these different types of stoma here.

In these posts, we’ll be focusing mainly on colostomies and ileostomies. Information and support for people with urostomies is available from the Urostomy Association.

A stoma can be permanent or temporary. If it’s intended to be permanent, the surgeon will often cut through the bowel and the end closest to the stomach will be brought through the abdomen and stitched in place. This is called an end ileostomy or end colostomy. Food will pass from the stomach, through the remaining part of the bowel and out of the stoma.

If the stoma is intended to be temporary, a loop of bowel is brought through the opening in the abdominal wall, opened and stitched in place. This is called a loop ileostomy or loop colostomy and involves two bowel openings, one leading from the stomach and the other towards the anus.

There is more information about end and loop stomas for colostomies and ileostomies on the NHS website.

With loop stomas, the part of the bowel connected to the stomach will continue to transport contents from the stomach. The part leading to the anus will be inactive unless the stoma is reversed, although it may continue to produce mucus which usually helps to lubricate the passage of waste.

Mucus is naturally produced by the bowel, so it will continue even if the bowel is no longer functioning. The amount, frequency and texture of the mucus varies and some people find that it decreases over time. The mucus can need management. If it’s thicker in consistency, it can build up and form a plug in the anus, which may be painful. If it’s thinner and more liquid, it can leak onto the surrounding skin causing irritation and into underwear.

You can find more information on rectal discharge and strategies for reducing and managing it on the Colostomy UK website.

Stomas help to manage or relieve symptoms such as constipation and abdominal pain, and help you to recover from your treatment. For many people the thought of having a stoma is worrying and upsetting and living with a stoma can be difficult to adjust to at first. With support, you can adapt to living with your stoma and managing it around your activities and lifestyle. There are different types of stoma equipment available and you will find out which work best for you. Colostomy UK have some information for anyone concerned about having a stoma.

There are specialist stoma nurses who help people through preparing for surgery, learning to care for the stoma day to day and dealing with any issues that arise. They will also be able to support you with the emotional and lifestyle aspects of the process such as body image, sexuality and socialising.

In our next post, we’ll look at surgery to create a stoma and the first steps after surgery. If you have any tips on stoma care or would like to share your experiences of having a stoma, please comment on this post.

You can also find more information about stomas through:

Colostomy UK

Ileostomy & Internal Pouch Association

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