If you're living with a colostomy bag, know that you aren't alone. Between 450,000 and 800,000 US adults suffer from an ostomy. And among all ostomy surgeries performed in America, 36.1% are colostomy surgeries.
Despite its deceptively small size, colostomy bags can be awkward and uncomfortable for new wearers. And if you don't know what to expect with yours, you may be feeling some anxiety as you prepare to head home with your new bag.
Luckily, we're here to help you with this guide to the most common questions from new colostomy patients. That way, you'll feel more prepared to navigate life with a colostomy bag successfully.
Ready to stop stressing and start living again? Get educated about your new colostomy bag with these 8 frequently asked questions.
1. How Do I Shower With My Colostomy Bag?
You have two choices when it comes to showering after a colostomy: shower with your bag or take it off and shower without the bag.
If you prefer to shower with your bag, cover it in plastic to keep it dry. The hot water won't do any damage and you can shower like normal.
You may want to take the bag off while you shower and that's okay, too. The stoma won't be harmed by exposure to air and you won't have to worry about water getting into your stoma. Just choose a shower time when your bowels aren't as active (i.e. early in the morning before you've had breakfast).
2. Will I Have to Change My Diet?
You will need to adjust your diet for the first few months after your colostomy surgery. Your physician should give you a list of recommended foods. These will include foods that have a lower potential for blockage and plenty of fluids.
Once you've gone through a period of adjustment, your physician will recommend slowly introducing other foods into your diet. You'll want to monitor the effect of the food on your stoma and learn how to change your eating habits to work with your colostomy bag. For example, chewing fibrous foods (i.e. corn, coconut, and celery) more to avoid blockage.
3. Can I Wear the Same Clothes as Before My Colostomy?
Yes! You can wear the same clothes as before your colostomy surgery. This includes form-fitting clothing since most colostomy bags are pretty discreet.
Some colostomy patients like wearing tight leggings or undershorts to secure the colostomy bag in place. Others avoid tight waistbands or belts because of discomfort. Otherwise, you can dress in the same clothes and styles you love.
4. How Do Intimacy and Sex Change?
Colostomy surgeries don't interfere with normal sexual functioning men and women. What's more, women don't experience any complications with getting pregnant or giving birth.
The only issue with intimacy after a colostomy is usually psychological. It can be embarrassing to explain your colostomy bag to your partner. But after a period of adjustment, you can learn to approach sex and intimacy the same way you did before your colostomy.
5. Are There Any Issues When Traveling With My Colostomy Bag?
You don't have to leave your love of travel behind because of your colostomy. In fact, little will change with your travel plans. Just make sure you have plenty of colostomy supplies on hand, which means bringing more than you might think necessary.
When traveling overseas, ask your physician about a UOAA Travel Communication Card. Supplied with this and a note from your doctor, you can communicate with customs and luggage inspection employees about your supplies. That way, you won't have any issues taking your colostomy supplies with you on the plane.
6. Will Any Medications Interfere?
Since medications are absorbed in the large intestine, you may wonder if your medications will interfere with your stoma or colostomy bag. This is a question to talk with your physician about both before and after your colostomy. Make sure to mention the location and type of stoma you have to your pharmacist to assure your medications work as intended.
7. Do You Have Tips for Emptying Colostomy Bags?
One of the most common questions after a colostomy is about emptying and changing colostomy bags. Here are our top tips.
First, how do you know when your bag is full? You'll know by simply looking at your bag. And when you do see that it's full, always empty it to avoid problems with leakage or overflow.
To empty your colostomy bag, many patients find it easiest to sit on the toilet and empty the beg between the legs. Hold the pouch by its bottom and unroll the opening slowly. Once you've emptied the bag, clean it with a piece of toilet paper and roll it back up.
Finally, most recommendations are that you change your bag every 3 to 7 days. Keep in mind that both changing the bag frequently and failing to change it enough can cause issues.
8. When Should I See a Physician About My Colostomy?
If you're experiencing any of the following symptoms, it's time to see your physician:
- Severe cramping
- Cuts in the stoma
- Excessive or reoccurring bleeding
- Ulcers or skin irritation
- Changes in the appearance or size of the stoma
- Watery discharge for more than 5 hours
- Nausea or vomiting
You will also need to see your physician if your stoma is not emptying.
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