If you have a stoma

If you have a stoma after your operation, you will 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.

If you are having problems, tell your surgeon or nurse. They can give you advice about what may help.

Looking after a stoma

Having a stoma is a big change to your body, whether it is temporary or permanent. 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 Support Group.

If you want to talk about any concerns you have, you can also contact our cancer support specialists on 0808 808 00 00.

You will usually see a stoma care nurse on the first day after your operation. They will begin to teach you how to look after the stoma.

The stoma will be swollen at first, but will shrink to its final size within a few weeks. If you have a loop stoma there may be a rod underneath the loop to support it. A nurse will usually take the rod out after a few days.

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.

You will continue to have support from a stoma care nurse after you go home. They can help you cope with any problems. You may want to have a family member or friend with you while you are taught how to care for your stoma. This means they will know how to help you at home, if needed.

If you have an ileostomy, you will wear a stoma bag that opens at the bottom so you can empty it. An ileostomy produces semi-liquid waste continuously, so you will 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 one to three 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 is 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 you can work at your own pace without any interruptions.

We have a video of a stoma nurse talking about looking after a stoma and showing the supplies you might use.

The ileostomy is really quite discreet – leakages happen occasionally, but generally speaking it’s far less of a deal than I anticipated it would be.


Stoma reversal

If you have a temporary stoma, you can usually have an operation to reverse the stoma when your treatment is over. This means you will pass poo (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 stoma or an end stoma.

To reverse a loop stoma, 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 stoma, 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 information and advice about ways you can cope.

Back to Surgery explained