By following a few simple tips, you can keep your stoma and pouch in good condition at all times — and enjoy a high quality of life.
Colostomy surgery has cured many patients of serious intestinal disorders such as colon cancer, Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis. Following the operation, patients typically find welcome relief from the distressing symptoms of those diseases. Yet colostomy surgery is a life-changing procedure that requires patients to adapt to using and caring for a colostomy pouch.
After removing a portion of the intestine, an opening, or stoma, is made in the abdominal wall through which fecal matter is emptied into a pouch. Before you leave the hospital after your colostomy surgery, a specially trained stoma nurse will instruct you on how to care for your ostomy bag.
A colostomy pouch system includes two parts: a flange, or wafer, with an opening for the stoma that attaches to your skin, and a pouch that covers the stoma and collects the stool. Although managing the pouch may be overwhelming at first, following these guidelines can help simplify the process:
1. Use the Right-Size Pouch. Finding the right-size pouch and flange is an important step in caring for your colostomy. A too-small opening in the flange may damage the stoma and lead to swelling. If the opening is too large, fecal matter could leak out onto the skin and cause irritation. Fortunately, there are several wafer and pouch types to choose from — so you should be able to pick the one that works best for you. Many manufacturers offer free samples for you to try, as well.
2. Change the Pouch Regularly. Flanges and wafers are typically changed every three to five days, although how often depends on the particular pouch system you use. However, you may need to change sooner if the pouch leaks, the skin around the stoma burns, or humidity causes the flange to separate from your skin.
3. Shave Around the Stoma. Removing the flange and pouch is easier if you shave the hair around the stoma. That way, you won’t experience any pain if the wafer pulls the hair when you remove it. It’s also recommended that you use a gentle electric shaver to remove the hair. To minimize discomfort when you change the pouch system, gently detach the sticky portion of the wafer from the skin instead of pulling it off. Before you attach a new flange and pouch, make sure the skin around the stoma is clean and dry to ensure a strong seal.
4. Remove Pouch Early in the Morning. The best time to change your pouch is in the morning when you haven’t eaten in several hours. The stoma will be less active on an empty stomach, which allows you to put on a new pouch without any leaks. You can also remove the appliances before you take a morning shower, and put on a new flange and pouch after showering. Washing the stoma with soap and water won’t damage it, and letting fresh air circulate around the stoma keeps it healthy.
5. Always Carry Extra Supplies. No matter how careful you are, accidents and leaks can still happen. To be ready for those emergencies, always have an extra flange, pouch, and other items you need to quickly change your pouch in your purse, car, desk, or somewhere you can easily access them.
Time and patience are required to get adjusted to your colostomy pouch. If you encounter any difficulties, your stoma nurse or surgeon can always provide advice on learning to manage your pouch.
At the Center for Ileostomy Surgery, we specialize in complex abdominal surgeries like colostomies. Our experienced and compassionate staff will ensure you understand every aspect of your surgery and guide you through your recovery, including how to care for your pouch. Contact us today to set up an appointment.