A colostomy is formed during surgery to divert a section of the large intestine (colon) through an opening in the abdomen (tummy).

The opening is known as a stoma. A pouch is placed over the stoma to collect waste products that would usually pass through the colon and out of the body through the rectum and anus (your back passage).

A colostomy can be permanent or temporary.

It is estimated that around 6,400 permanent colostomies are carried out each year in the UK.

Why a colostomy may be needed

A colostomy usually needs to be formed when there is a problem with an area of the colon. Some of the most common reasons for forming a colostomy include:

  • bowel cancer
  • Crohn's disease – a condition that causes inflammation of the digestive system
  • diverticulitis – a condition that causes small pouches to develop in the wall of the colon, called diverticula, which become infected and inflamed

A colostomy diverts digestive waste away from the affected areas of the colon to give them a chance to heal. In some cases, a colostomy is formed after a section of the colon has been removed.

Read more about why a colostomy is used.

Types of colostomy

There are two main ways a colostomy can be formed. They are:

  • a loop colostomy – where a loop of colon is pulled out through a hole in your abdomen, before being opened up and stitched to the skin
  • an end colostomy – where one end of the colon is pulled out through a hole in your abdomen and stitched to the skin

Loop colostomies tend to be temporary and require a further operation at a later date to reverse the procedure. It is also possible to reverse an end colostomy, but this is less common.

You will usually have to stay in hospital for 3-10 days after a colostomy or colostomy reversal. 

Read more about how colostomies are performed, colostomy reversal and recovering from a colostomy.

Living with a colostomy

If you need to have a colostomy formed, you may initially be concerned that your day-to-day activities will be restricted and that others will notice you are wearing a colostomy bag.

However, modern colostomy equipment is discreet and secure and there is no reason why you should not be able to do the activities you enjoyed before, without experiencing the symptoms that made it necessary in the first place.

Adjusting to life with a colostomy can be challenging, but most people become accustomed to it over time.

You will usually see a specialist stoma nurse before and after having a colostomy formed, although you may not be able to see them before the procedure if it is carried out in an emergency. Specialist stoma nurses can offer support and advice to help you adapt to life with a colostomy.

Read more information about living with a colostomy and complications of a colostomy.

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