If you have a stoma after surgery

If you have a stoma after your operation, you’ll need some time to adjust. You may find it helpful to talk to someone else who has experience of living with a stoma. Your stoma care nurse can arrange this and will teach you how to manage your stoma at home.

When changing your stoma bag, it helps to be prepared and give yourself plenty of time. It will get easier with practice. How often you need to empty the bag each day depends on what you eat and what kind of stoma you have. A stoma made from part of your large bowel is called a colostomy. If it is made from your small bowel, it is called an ileostomy.

If you have a temporary stoma you will usually have an operation to reverse it a few months later. You will then be able to pass bowel motions from your bottom again. It may take some time for your bowel function to settle after a stoma reversal. Tell your surgeon or nurse if you’re having problems. They can give you advice about what may help.

Looking after a stoma

Having a stoma, whether it’s temporary or permanent, is a big change to your body. It can take time to adjust to. You may find it helpful to talk to someone who is used to living with a stoma. Your stoma nurse may be able to arrange this for you. You can also contact the Colostomy Association or the Ileostomy and Internal Pouch Association.

Learning to look after a stoma takes time and patience, and no one expects you to be able to cope perfectly straight away. Like anything new, it will get easier with time and practice. Your stoma nurse can help you cope with any problems.

If you have an ileostomy, you’ll wear a stoma bag that opens at the bottom so you can empty it. An ileostomy produces semi-liquid waste continuously, so you’ll need to empty the bag several times a day.

A colostomy may be active two or three times a day, but this will vary from person to person. It will also be affected by what you eat. It will usually settle into a pattern after a few weeks, so you can predict when it is likely to be active. You will usually need to change your stoma bag about 1–3 times a day.

Some people with a colostomy are taught how to flush out (irrigate) their colostomy once a day. This helps them to control when it is active. If you want to try this, your stoma care nurse can discuss it with you in more detail.

Before you change or empty your bag, make sure that you have plenty of bags and cleaning materials with you. It’s a good idea to keep everything you need in one place, so that you don’t have to search for things at the last minute. Give yourself plenty of time, so that you can work at your own pace without any interruptions.

Living with a stoma

Living with a stoma

Nurse Gail Kerr talks about stomas and preparing stoma patients physically and psychologically for having a stoma.

About our cancer information videos

Living with a stoma

Nurse Gail Kerr talks about stomas and preparing stoma patients physically and psychologically for having a stoma.

About our cancer information videos


Stoma reversal

If you have a temporary stoma, when your treatment is over you can usually have an operation to reverse the stoma. This means you will pass stools from your bottom again.

The timing of a stoma reversal operation varies from person to person. It can range from a few months after the stoma was made, to one or two years later.

How stoma reversal is done depends on whether you have a loop ileostomy/colostomy or an end ileostomy/colostomy.

To reverse a loop ileostomy/colostomy, the surgeon closes the opening in the loop of bowel that was used. They then remove the stitches holding the loop of bowel in place on the skin. The bowel goes back inside the tummy (abdomen).

To reverse an end ileostomy/colostomy, the surgeon removes the stitches that are holding the piece of bowel up to the skin. The piece of bowel is rejoined to the rest of the bowel inside the tummy.

After a stoma reversal, it may take some time for your bowel habit to get back to normal. We have more information on how to cope with bowel changes.


Back to Surgery explained

What happens after surgery?

Your specialist nurse will help you recover after surgery and you’ll probably be ready to go home after 3–7 days.

Bowel function after surgery

If you have problems with bowel function after surgery, talk to your surgeon or nurse. There are treatments that can help.