A colostomy is surgery to make an opening in the skin on the belly and connect your bowel (colon) to that opening. The opening is called a stoma.
After surgery, stool will no longer leave your body through your anus. It will go through the stoma and into a plastic bag. The bag is attached to the stoma.
The surgery can be done in two ways. In open surgery, the doctor makes one large cut (incision) in the belly. In laparoscopic surgery, the doctor makes several small incisions in the belly. Then the doctor puts a thin, lighted tube and special surgical tools through the incisions. The tube is called a scope. It lets the doctor see your organs and do the surgery. In either surgery, the incisions leave scars. These will fade with time.
You may worry about life after this surgery. Many people with colostomies lead active, normal lives. It may help to know that the bags don't smell bad. They also don't show under clothes. Other people won't know that you have a colostomy unless you choose to tell them.
In the hospital, an ostomy nurse will help you learn to care for your colostomy. You will probably go home in 4 to 7 days. But it could take 6 weeks to fully recover.
How It Is Done
Anatomy of the colon and rectum
The large intestine (colon) extends from the cecum to the anus and includes the ascending colon, the transverse colon, the descending colon, the sigmoid colon, and the rectum.
Colon cancer site
Cancer is shown in a section of the descending colon.
Colon section removed
Surgery removes the section of colon that contains cancer.
Remaining colon attached to create a stoma
The surgeon connects the end of the remaining section of the colon to an opening made in the skin. This creates a stoma.
Colostomy pouch in place
Body waste passes from the colon through the stoma into a colostomy pouch (or bag), which is taped to your body.
What To Expect
A colostomy usually requires general anesthesia and a hospital stay of 3 days to 2 weeks. You may have a colostomy right after other surgery. You can expect some discomfort during the first few days after surgery. This can often be controlled with home treatment and drugs.
After the colostomy, a plastic bag called a colostomy pouch is taped over the opening on the outside of your body. You will be taught how to take care of your pouch and how to watch for infection. With proper care, you should be able to return to normal but nonstrenuous activities within a few months.
Why It Is Done
A colostomy is done when part of your colon or rectum has been removed and the part that remains cannot function normally. A colostomy may be done as part of treatment for colorectal cancer, diverticulitis, or other colon problems.
The colostomy opening can become infected. To prevent this, keep your skin under the pouch clean and dry.
Current as of: November 29, 2022
Author: Healthwise Staff
Clinical Review Board: All Healthwise education is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, nurses, advanced practitioners, registered dieticians, and other healthcare professionals.