What is an ostomy?

What is an ostomy?

When the urinary or digestive system is not working properly, a surgeon can create an opening in the abdomen.  This allows bodily waste to be rerouted from its usual path because of malfunctioning parts of the urinary or digestive system. An ostomy can be temporary or permanent.  The surgery itself is called an ostomy. A stoma is the term for the actual opening created by ostomy surgery. The stoma is located within the abdomen and is dark pink or beefy red in color.


There are many types of ostomy surgeries but the main three categories include:

  • Colostomy – this type of surgery involves the colon or large intestine. An opening can be made on any part of the colon.  The further along the opening, the more formed the stool will be.  A pouch is typically placed over the stoma, however some individuals with colostomies may be able to complete irrigations and wear a cap instead of a pouch.
  • Ileostomy – this type of surgery involves the ileum which is a part of the small intestine. Because the ileum is higher up in the intestinal tract, typically stool is more loose.  A pouch is required to collect stool.
  • Urostomy – this type of surgery involves diverting urine to an opening in the abdomen. A pouch is required to collect urine.  These pouches typically have a spout at the tail end of the pouch for drainage.

Ostomy pouch change

Regardless of the type of ostomy you have, pouches should typically be changed every 3-4 days.  Changing too frequently or waiting too long can damage your skin and cause serious problems.  The steps for changing your pouch will vary significantly depending on the type and location of surgery, the size of the stoma, the type of pouching system used as well as your body size and skin integrity.  For more detailed information on ostomy management and instructions on pouch changes, download our patient guide for ostomy.

Having an ostomy can have a major impact on all aspects of life.  While it is not easy, there are many things you can do to take control and improve the quality of your life.  Talk to your health care professional to find the best treatment plan for you.

Jeffrey Despommier, OTR, OMS, CUA, ATP


About the author – Jeffrey is an occupational therapist with over 15 years of rehabilitation experience. He is board certified as a urologic associate and ostomy management specialist.  He also specializes in complex rehab technology and is board certified as an assistive technology professional.

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