One in 500 people in the UK live with an ostomy, but what exactly is it? Did you know that it is a life-changing procedure that thousands of people have every year?
What is an ostomy?
Surgeons begin an ostomy surgery by creating an artificial hole in the abdomen which is made into a hollow organ, this is called the stoma. The hole allows for the passing of bodily waste to the outside of the body and into an ostomy ‘bag’ or ‘pouch’ which the wearer empties on a regular basis.
People who have undergone this type of surgery are left with a permanent or temporary ostomy pouch, and are known as ‘ostomates’. Often this type of surgery has a lot of stigma attached, as the operation means patients will no longer pass waste in a ‘normal’ way. Therefore, ostomates group together and provide support for one another, learning to love their new bodies and helping others to feel comfortable in their own skin after such a drastic change in lifestyle.
Types of ostomy surgery
There are 3 main types of procedures:
The colon (large intestine) is connected to the opening (stoma) so that the rectum and anus are skipped in the waste removal system. In temporary colostomies, this allows damaged parts of the colon to heal, whereas in permanent surgeries the rectum is removed.2
The ileum (end of the small intestine) connects to the opening, skipping the colon, rectum, and anus. If you have a large intestine problem that cannot be solved with medication, you may require an ileostomy. The most common reason for this procedure is inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis.3
This procedure is used for cases where drainage of the urine through the bladder and urethra is not possible. Usually, the bladder is infected or diseased and no longer functions properly, necessitating the need for a urostomy.4
Life post ostomy surgery, facts and fiction
Whether you have an ostomy pouch or are curious about needing one in the future, we are going to answer some of the common questions.
Will I smell?
An ostomy bag is used to collect waste produced by our bodily functions, it is a common myth that they smell. Modern ostomy products are lined with charcoal and feature air filters that help minimise the odours. Deodorizer droplets can also be used to help with any concerns with odour management.
Can everyone see my pouch?
A common fear for new ostomates is that everyone will be able to see their new pouch. There are companies that make specialist wraps, clothing and underwear. These products help to combat the insecurities one might feel after finding out you need to have a bag attached to you. Companies develop products that make sure the pouch can be hidden and kept securely in place, guaranteeing no accidents occur and the wearer's confidence remains intact. You may have even met an ostomate and not even realised, due to the use of these innovative products.
Will my stoma get infected?
It is important that patients keep their stomas clean and dry. Applying an ostomy bag can be risky business, resulting in potential leaks of bodily fluids. This along with the adhesive used to connect the skin to the pouch, can cause skin irritation and increase the risk of a peristomal infection.
Ostomates should use soft dry wipes to clean the area around the stoma. A perfect example would be the Conti® UltraSoft dry wipe, which was specifically designed for areas that require more sensitive care.
The wipes are a lot softer than many other dry wipes which can be harsh on the users’ skin. The Ultrasoft range is often used as part of the stoma care package alongside disposal bags, which can be used to collect and dispose of the wipes safely and conveniently. Alternatively, the Conti® Flushable wet wipes may be used as they have all the same properties but these can be flushed down the toilet discreetly, rather than disposed of in the bin.Want to know more about our Conti® range? Click here!
Life with an ostomy pouch
Just because someone is functioning slightly differently from the norm it does not mean that they should be treated differently. Sadly, this was not the case for ten-year-old Seven Bridges who committed suicide in January 2019, due to the ‘relentless bullying’ he received because of his ostomy bag. Support for Seven and his family has come from all over the globe, with fellow ostomates sharing their own stories about the troubles they have faced including: body issues, bullying and missing out on their childhood. Social media personalities and models who wear ostomy bags have been showing solidarity, posting pictures online with the hashtag #bagsoutforseven.
Ostomates are given a second chance at life due to their surgery, and although it is technically considered a disability in some countries,5 this hasn’t stopped them from living normal lives and continuing to succeed. For example, 5-time Olympic Champion Sir Steve Redgrave competed for his 5th gold medal whilst wearing an ostomy bag due to suffering from Ulcerative Colitis. The 34th president of the United States of America, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who served two terms in office, suffered with Crohn’s disease. He underwent ileostomy surgery and was left with an ostomy bag but yet still became one of the most influential presidents during his time.
There is no wrong way to have a body. We are all human and we are all different. A small difference in the route our waste removal systems work should not mean we single out or judge others.
We hope that everyone reading this is able to take a small step towards loving themselves a little bit more. We at Vernacare wish for a world where everyone is more body positive!
If you wish to read more on ostomies and the lives of ostomates we have some great recommendations;
- HuffPost UK. (2019). 9 Things People With Stomas Want You To Know. [online] Available at: https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/things-people-with-stomas-want-you-to-know_uk_5a254c56e4b0a02abe926a59 [Accessed 11 Feb. 2019].
- com. (2019). What Is an Ostomy? - Definition, Types & Complications | Study.com. [online] Available at: https://study.com/academy/lesson/what-is-an-ostomy-definition-types-complications.html [Accessed 12 Feb. 2019].
- (2019). Ileostomy: Procedure, Recovery, and Risks. [online] Available at: https://www.healthline.com/health/ileostomy#reasons [Accessed 12 Feb. 2019].
- New, Y., Fashion, F. and Damaged, T. (2019). Urostomy Information l United Ostomy Associations of America. [online] United Ostomy Associations of America. Available at: https://www.ostomy.org/urostomy/ [Accessed 12 Feb. 2019].
- org. (2019). [online] Available at: https://www.ostomy.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/uoa_brochure_discrim-June-2017-update.pdf [Accessed 13 Feb. 2019].