What is a stoma?
A stoma is often referred to as a ‘bag’. It is the term used when an opening is made in the skin of the abdomen and a section of bowel (intestine) is diverted and connected to the opening during an operation. We attach a bag over this opening so that bowel content goes into the bag, instead of coming out your bum. The names colostomy and ileostomy refer to which piece of bowel is diverted and connected to the opening, the large bowel or colon (colostomy), or further upstream in the small bowel or ileum (ileostomy)
Why are stomas necessary?
Most bowel operations do not result in or require stomas, but we do form them sometimes and for various reasons. These include:
- When we remove a section of bowel due to cancer or infection and it is not safe, or possible, to join the bowel ends back together
- When we need to divert bowel content away from a join while it is healing
- To improve quality of life, for example in people who have severe incontinence
- Occasionally as an urgent procedure after a bowel operation if the join in the bowel doesn’t heal well.
What preparation is needed for a stoma?
Usually making a stoma is a planned operation. We understand it is a frightening thing to talk about and takes a lot of getting used to. We will spend as much time as needed to ensure your questions are answered. We can show you pictures of stomas and bags, and we work closely with our stoma therapy nurses to make sure you, and your family, feel as comfortable as possible.
Occasionally stomas are made as second procedures if there are complications after routine surgery, we will talk to you about this as part of the preparation for planned operations. If we need to make a stoma urgently these are often temporary and can be reversed later.
What is a stomal therapist?
The stoma will be made as part of the operation by your surgeon. After the procedure we are part of the team that works to help you recover from surgery, and learn how to manage your stoma. A stomal therapist is an important part of this team. They are specially trained nurses who will help prepare you for a stoma, and be heavily involved in supporting you afterwards. We are lucky to have some wonderful stomal therapists working with us.
How do I look after my stoma?
If you have a stoma procedure we realise it takes a lot of getting used to. Once you are feeling up to it our stoma therapist will show you how to change the bag and look after the skin around the opening and bowel connection area. Sometimes we need to change the bag type slightly to make sure you have the best fit possible before you go home. This process takes varying amounts of time, but our aim is to make sure you are comfortable and confident with your stoma before you go home.
What if I have problems with my stoma?
Once you are home we are still here to support you. If you have any questions or concerns you will have both our and our stoma therapists contact details. We will provide advice and ongoing care during follow up, and at future times as required.
There are also several online communities which some of our patients find helpful:
What can I do with a stoma?
Stomas are more common than you might think (47 000 people in Australia have one), and our team are very experienced in supporting people living with stomas. There is pretty much nothing that you can’t do with a stoma, including swimming, diving, other sports, work, travel and living life to its fullest!