Monthly Archives: September 2015



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By Dr. Sarah Brewer

Learning that you need a part of your bowel removed always comes as a shock. Often, it’s difficult to take in all that you’re told, and you may not know at first exactly what procedure you will have, and whether an ileostomy or colostomy will be temporary or permanent.

Where possible, your surgeon will try to join up (anastomose) the cut ends on either side of the resected bowel. If this is not possible, perhaps because of poor blood supply, because it would produce too much tension, or because the lower end of the bowel is involved in the disease process, your surgeon may fashion an ileostomy or a colostomy.

An ileostomy connects the end of the small bowel (ileum) to an opening (stoma) made in your abdominal wall, usually on the right hand side, to form a ‘spout’. Waste is soft or liquid, and collected in a pouch that can be drained from a sealable opening at regular intervals.

A colostomy connects part of your large bowel (colon) to an opening (stoma) made in your abdominal wall, usually on the left hand side. Waste is semi-solid or solid and collected in a colostomy pouch which sticks to the abdominal wall and this is usually replaced one to three times a day.

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A temporary stoma may be needed to give damaged or operated bowel time to rest and heal, and is surgically closed several weeks later, after all swelling has settled down. A permanent ileostomy is needed if all of your lower bowel is removed (total colectomy), while a permanent colostomy is needed if the lower rectum is involved in the disease process.

What if I don’t have the operation?

If surgery is not carried out when recommended by your surgeon, it is likely that you will experience a worsening of your symptoms, and of your health. Depending on the bowel disease you have, you may develop a blockage, a perforated bowel or an abscess, all of which are potentially life threatening. If you have cancer, it is more likely to spread and become incurable.

What are the benefits?

Surgery removes diseased bowel and gives you the best chance of a cure for some diseases, such as bowel cancer. It can also significantly improve bowel symptoms such as persistent pain or looseness if you have an inflammatory bowel disease.

What can I do to prepare?

Try to be as fit and healthy as possible through gentle exercise. Eat a well-balanced diet, unless advised to follow a particular eating regime. You will usually see a stoma care nurse before your operation who can offer support and advice so you know what to expect and can make plans to adapt your lifestyle. You can also obtain invaluable advice and support from the Colostomy Association and the Ileostomy & Internal Pouch Support Group

What happens during the recovery period?

You are likely to feel tired during the first few weeks after your operation, but gentle mobilization is important to reduce the risk of developing a deep vein blood clot. You will be advised not to lift anything heavy, or to carry out strenuous activities, for at least the first 6 weeks. You should not drive until you are advised that you can do so by your doctor and insurance provider. This is usually once you can perform an emergency stop without fear that your wound may hurt.

You may experience urgency, constipation, diarrhoea or loose stools after surgery, which usually settles down. Medication can help to bring these bowel symptoms under control. When, or if, you can return to work depends on the bowel condition that you have, how well you are generally, and the type of work that you do.

Living with a stoma

When you leave hospital you will be given a list of products that you need, and your GP will issue prescriptions for these when you need new supplies. If you have a permanent stoma these supplies will be free of prescription charges, but if you have a temporary stoma you may have to pay prescriptions charges unless you’re over 60 years of age. Information on prescription costs and exemptions is available here:

You can obtain your repeat prescription products from a pharmacy, or direct from a Supply Company (whose details will be given to you by your doctor or hospital) who can take care of repeat prescriptions for you if you prefer. They can phone you each month, contact your surgery for the necessary prescriptions, and send the order to your home (in plain packaging) which often makes life a lot easier. There is an excellent overview of all your options here:

Some people may prefer to use colonic irrigation as an alternative to wearing a colostomy appliance. Information on this option, and other diet and lifestyle advice is available here:

It’s natural to worry that others may notice you are wearing a colostomy or ileostomy bag, but modern systems are discreet and secure, so few people will know unless you tell them. Accessory products that can make living with a stoma easier include support belts, deodorisers, protective skin wipes, non-sting adhesive removers, skin cleansers, barrier creams and discharge solidifying agents. These products can be ordered directly from your stoma pouch supplier. You can also request patient samples from suppliers such as Opus Healthcare,


Waking up and seeing my stoma for the first time was one of the hardest things I’ve had to go through but not as hard as suffering with Crohn’s disease for the last 10 years. Being in hospital away from my children for 3 weeks after having the operation was heart wrenching as I’d been in hospital a few times before but not for this long. My youngest daughter was 13 years old and my eldest daughter 17 and I’d been a single Mum for 12 years doing everything for them. Providing a home, working full time and being a mum was very hard especially when you suffer with Crohn’s disease.

My girls accepted the fact that I had a stoma very well. I think they saw it as my life saver and they knew that I truly wouldn’t be here if I didn’t have my stoma.

In the first few weeks I had some issues with my stoma like sore skin and leaks so I was very nervous going out but I really wanted to grab hold of normality and do things with my girls that I hadn’t done for a long time.

I remember going to the cinema with Livi, my youngest, and during the film I got up to check all was okay and at the end of the film, again, checking everything was ok. That was when I had my first leak outdoors and it really threw me and I could see worry on Livi’s face too which made me pull myself together, sort it out and be brave for her sake. I think because I adapted really well with the stoma it made my girls more at ease with it. Livi had seen my stoma when I was in hospital, she watched whilst the stoma nurse was changing my bag and she wasn’t squeamish at all. The situation with leaks and sore skin didn’t last too long although at the time it felt like forever! Once I found the right bag for me things started to get a lot better and I began developing confidence. I always took an emergency supply of bags with me wherever I went just in case I had a leak but fortunately I have never had to use it. My girls being teenagers were at the age where humour would really help with situations. I found by laughing at certain things like the smell of the bathroom when I’ve just emptied my bag really does lighten the fact of having a stoma. They made jokes about me not having a bottom, in a very jovial way, and we all laugh about it and I think that has really helped in coming to terms with it all. After all they do say laughter is the best form of medicine don’t they?

It’s been 2 years since I had my op and I do think sometimes they forget I have a stoma as I don’t let it stop me doing anything at all. Life really is so much better and my girls feel they have their mum back. We go swimming, cycling and all the things we did before I got sick. We even spent 5 hours in a water park on holiday and I went on most of the rides!

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