What is an ostomy?

An ostomy is a surgical procedure by which a surgeon will create an exit route for urine and stool through a hole in your abdomen. This is usually done when your urinary tract or digestive system aren’t working as they should, and you can’t pee or poo “the normal way”.

What is a stoma?

In the conversation with your doctor, it’s likely that they have mentioned that you’ll be getting a stoma. But what exactly is a stoma? A stoma is the end of the intestine that can be seen coming out through the abdomen after an ostomy. It is a small, pinkish to red, circular piece of flesh that is sewn to the body and may lie flat or protrude out. Your stoma won’t have any nerve endings, so you won’t be able to feel any pain or other sensation from it

So… what’s the difference here?

The words ostomy and stoma are often used interchangeably, even though they have slightly different meanings.

  • Ostomy: This is the surgically created opening in the abdomen through which urine and stools exit the body
  • Stoma: This refers to the actual end of the intestine that you can see coming out through the abdominal wall

The Different Types of Ostomies

If your urinary tract doesn’t work as it should

If your bladder isn’t working as it should, your doctor might tell you that you need an ostomy. But if your urinary tract hasn’t been working properly in a while, you might not be as familiar with how the healthy bladder should actually work. But don’t worry, we’ve got everything you need to know right here. Your kidneys are where urine gets produced – you can find them on your back, just below your ribcage. The urine then travels via two long tubes, called ureters, to your bladder. There, it will be stored until it’s time for you to go for a wee. You’ll usually feel the need when the bladder is about half full. When you made your way to the loo, your pelvic floor and sphincter muscles (the ones that control whether urine stays in the body or not) relax and urine will leave the body via a short tube, also called urethra.

Urostomy

If your bladder doesn’t work as it should and you’re unable to pass urine the usual way, you likely need a urostomy. This means that a surgeon will create a new exit route for urine to leave your body, usually via a stoma. We know, this can all sound a bit overwhelming to begin with, but that’s what we’re here for. We’ve got everything you need to know right here. And if you’re still feeling unsure, give our lovely customer care team a ring, they’ll happily talk to you about any worries or concerns.

Nephrostomy

Your ureters can become blocked, for example due to a kidney stone, cancer, or a severe infection. If this is the case, you will likely need a nephrostomy. This means that a thin plastic tube is inserted through the skin into one or both kidneys so you can pass urine again. Again, this can all sound somewhat intimidating at the start – but don’t worry, we’ve got you covered! Just follow the link and read up on everything that’s to know about your nephrostomy. And if that wasn’t quite enough to calm your nerves, why not give your customer care team a ring? They’ll be happy to have a chat with you.

If your bowels aren’t working as they should

To fully understand why an ostomy is necessary, it is helpful to understand how the healthy digestive system works.

Small intestine

Digestion starts with food being broken down into smaller pieces and mixed with digestive fluids by your mouth and stomach. When this step is complete, food will be passed on to the small intestine. With approximately 6 metres of length and 3.5 to 5 centimetres of width this part of the intestine is where 90% of the digestion happens. It takes roughly 4 to 8 hours for the small intestine to absorb all valuable nutrients, vitamins, and minerals before food is being passed on to the colon or large intestine.

The small intestine consists of main parts. These are called the duodenum – the part that continues to break down food – and the jejunum and ileum. The last two parts are mostly responsible for absorbing water and nutrients into the bloodstream. To break the food down, the small intestine creates a digestive juice consisting of a mix of bile from your liver and enzymes from your pancreas. This mix makes sure that everything is properly broken down into proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. When this stage is completed and it’s time for food to move on the large intestine, the small intestine contracts to pass the remaining waste material on.

Small intestine infographic

Large intestine

The large intestine, or colon, is about 1.5 metres long and about 7-10 centimetres wide and is made up of 5 different parts. These parts are the cecum – beginning of the colon that’s connected to the small intestine – the ascending or right colon, the transverse or across colon, the descending or left colon, and the sigmoid colon – the part that’s connected to the rectum. Your colon will absorb the remaining water and salts into the bloodstream. This will change the consistency of the remaining food waste from liquid to firm.

Food waste moves through the large intestine via peristalsis – a series of muscle contractions. A healthy bowel will usually have about 3 to 4 major peristaltic movements per day which are usually triggered after food. The time stools move to take through the colon, also called transit time, varies greatly from person to person. As a rule of thumb, however, it is 2.4 days for a woman and 1.9 days for a man. When the colon has finished absorbing the remaining nutrients and water, the stool will mainly consist of debris and bacteria and will be stored in the sigmoid colon. it will remain here until it is passed on into the rectum.

Large intestine infographic
Rectum

The rectum is the part of your digestive tract that connects the colon to the anus. When stool or gas reach the rectum, sensor send a message to your brain to let you know that there is something in the rectum. Until you are ready to let go, your sphincter muscles will squeeze and hold the stool inside your body.

Fun fact: The rectum is the only organ in the body that can work in reverse. So if stool moves into the rectum but you’re not ready to go for a poo yet, it will automatically move the stool back into the colon. Handy, right? This is, however, only possible with formed stools. As the stool gets pushed back into the colon, more moisture is absorbed and if it’s left there for too long, this might lead to constipation.

Anus

The anus is the last part of your digestive tract and releases the stool when you’re ready to go for a poo. The lining of the upper anus is made to detect what consistency the contents are that are coming from the rectum. Once detected, it will send a message to your brain to let you know whether the contents are liquid, gas, or solid.

The two anal sphincters – internal and external – are helping you to keep stool in the body when it’s not appropriate to go for a poo. The external sphincter muscle works to keep stool inside the body until you are sat on a toilet, the internal sphincter muscle stops you from releasing stools when you’re not aware of stool moving into the anus (when you’re asleep, for example). If everything works as it should, both sphincters will relax to help the stool exit your body when you’re ready to go to the toilet.

Ileostomy

When a part of your small or large intestine is damaged or diseased, you might need an ileostomy. A loop or an end of your small intestine is used to form a stoma, generally on the right-hand side of your abdomen. This provides a new route for food waste to leave your body and stools are collected in a stoma bag that’s attached to your skin. Are you struggling to remember what your doctor told you about your ileostomy? Don’t worry, we’ve got all the necessary info here for you. And if you would rather speak to someone, give our friendly customer care team a ring. They’ll be happy to talk with you about your upcoming ileostomy.

Colostomy

If parts of your large intestine, rectum, or anus aren’t working as they should, you might need a colostomy. With a colostomy, a surgeon will bring a loop or an end of your colon out through a hole in your abdomen to create a stoma. The stoma will generally sit on the left-hand side of your abdomen and will provide a new way for your body to pass stool. Have you got any unanswered questions about your upcoming colostomy? Then follow this link, we’ve got everything you need to know, right there. And if that couldn’t answer your question, our lovely customer care team definitely can. So don’t hesitate to give them a call!

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