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What is ostomy?

An ostomy is a general term describing the surgical process of creating a “stoma” or “opening” that connects a body part to the outside environment.

Some of the most common forms of an ostomy are:

  • Colostomy (Connecting part of the large intestine through the skin)

  • Ileostomy ( Connecting part of the small intestine through the skin)

  • Tracheostomy (Opening the windpipe through the neck)

  • Urostomy (Opening for the urinary system)

There are numerous health conditions that require the artificial creation of a stoma.

For most, this type of operation can be an uncomfortable experience for both the body and mind of the patient.  It also often requires specialized medical supplies to care and manage.

Ostomy Supplies and Descriptions

  1. Skin Wafers – A Skin Wafer, or “flange”, fits around the stoma. Since stomas can come in all shapes and sizes, the wafer typically requires cutting unless the manufacturer will pre-cut them for you. There are moldable wafers on the market, but most will require cutting to fit the patient’s stoma.

  2. Ostomy Pouches – There is a lot of variety in ostomy pouches – they come in all shapes, sizes, and types.

    • “One Piece” vs. “Two Piece” – The “one piece” system means the pouch is directly attached to the skin wafer. The “two piece” system means the pouch can be detached from the wafer and replaced, emptied, and/or cleaned.

    • “Closed End” vs. “Open End” – An “open-ended” pouch is drainable and reusable. The bottom is closed off with Velcro or a clip. A “closed-end” pouch has no opening, so it’s not reusable but is preferable for outdoor activities and swimming where leaking could occur.

    • Sizes of Pouches – Pouches can come in a number of sizes, including small pouches designed to be more discreet (but will have to be changed more frequently).

  3. Adhesive Remover – An adhesive remover wipe is used to treat the skin where the wafer attaches around the stoma. It helps keep the skin clean and non-irritated.

  4. Skin Barrier Wipes – Skin barrier wipes are applied before putting a new stoma onto the skin. They help keep the skin around the stoma infection-free and wound-free from the adhesives needed on the wafer. It will help ensure the adhesive on the wafer will stick.

  5. Stoma Powder – Stoma powder helps dry up moisture so the wafer sticks well and promotes healing for irritated skin.

  6. Stoma Pastes – Helps the wafer stick well and evens out the skin surface so the wafer adheres confidently.

  7. Barrier Rings – Like the stoma pastes, it helps even out skin surface and keep the wafer in place.

  8. Ostomy Belt – The belt will help the wafer in place against the body by putting pressure on the edges.

  9. Miscellaneous Supplies – To ensure cleanliness and proper use of your ostomy supplies, you’ll also need a few more things:

    • Pen – To make your markings on your wafer to make the cut

    • Scissors – To cut the wafer to the size of the Stoma

    • Soap – Cleanliness is next to godliness. Or at least keeps infections away.

    • Several washcloths – You’ll want clean cloths to wipe any leakage or waste as well as to dry off the skin or appliances before applying them.

    • Mirror – This can be useful if you need to get a good view of your stoma while handing your wafer our pouch.

This is a brief overview of what you should keep handy in your “ostomy kit”. If you’re active, working, swimming, in school, or travelling, you should always pack a separate kit to take with you. The best way to ensure you’re always with your tools is to bring two extra sets of supplies (wafers, pouches, pastes, etc.) with you at all times. This way, if you have to use one, you’ve got another accessible to you in case of emergencies.

What is a colostomy bag?

A colostomy, or ostomy bag is a pouch that collects fecal matter following a surgery called a colostomy. A colostomy is an operation where the colon is given an opening in the abdomen, called a stoma. This type of procedure might occur in patients who have colon or rectal cancer, intestinal or bowel blockage, or serious inflammatory bowel syndrome. The bag attaches to the stoma and acts as your new way for catching and disposing of waste.

Is there a difference between Ostomy & Colostomy Bags?

An ostomy bag and colostomy bag are the same thing. The only potential difference is not in the bag but where it is placed on the body. This depends on whether a patient is receiving a colostomy, ileostomy, or urostomy and depends on which section of the colon is used to create the stoma. If a bag is called an ostomy bag it can be used for those with colostomies, the only thing to look for is to not purchase a urostomy bag, as this is only capable of collecting urine.

What is life like with a colostomy bag?

Once you heal from ostomy surgery, you can live life in much the same way as you did before. You can eat all the same foods you ate before your procedure. Besides high contact sports that might injure the stoma, you can remain active and participate in sports. There are products such as an ostomy belt that can secure the ostomy in place while being active. Most bags can be hidden under the clothes without anyone noticing that it is there. Colostomy bags can be changed on your own, however, if you are bed-bound or otherwise incapacitated, you will need someone to assist you.

An ostomy bag should be emptied when it is between ⅓-½ full (usually between 4-10 times a day). Some bags are drainable, in which case they need to be changed every 2 or 3 days while others need to be replaced with a new one everytime the bag fills up. The average bag costs between $4 - $9 depending on the brand and specific features, and often come in a pack of 10.

It's important to remember that it will take time to get used to life with a colostomy bag, both physically and mentally. However, once that adjustment is made, you will be able to enjoy almost all of the activities you took part in before the colostomy.

What are the different types of colostomy bags?

The important questions to consider when selecting a colostomy bag are: Is it a one piece or two piece? What size is it? Is it reusable or single use? Is it trim to fit or is it single fit?

One-Piece Colostomy Bags

A one piece ostomy bag is the only thing you will need to buy. The barrier is attached to the drainage pouch and it fits around the stoma with an adhesive. When you need a new bag you take the whole thing off and use a new one. The pros of a one piece system are that they are often less expensive and the bag and flange can’t be separated so there’s less risk of leakage. The cons are that you will need to change the bag more often which can irritate the skin and bag changes take more time.

Two-Piece Colostomy Bags

A two piece ostomy system will require the additional purchase of a base plate called a flange, or wafer, that will fit around your stoma. The bag attaches to the base plate. The bag is changed as needed and the flange is usually changed every 2-3 days. The pros of a two piece system are that you can switch out the size of bag you are using, allowing you to wear a bag that is appropriate for whatever activity you’re engaging in. They also require less flange changes making them gentler on the skin. This system, however, is more expensive, and can, rarely, come apart and cause leaks.

Reusable Colostomy Bags

Reusable, or drainable, bags have a closure at the bottom of the bag that allows wearers to drain the contents, wash the bag and replace it. Two piece bags can be removed then drained whereas one piece bags can be drained while still attached. Single use, or closed, bags have no closure and are removed and discarded whenever the bag needs to be changed.

Trim to fit bags mean that you will cut the opening of the bag or flange to fit around your stoma. Single fit bags mean that the bag comes with a specified stoma size, therefore you will need to measure your stoma and purchase the appropriately sized bag.

Most bags will come in a standard (~655 ml) size and are what most people will use. Smaller bags are also available, these need to be changed more frequently and are most commonly used by people when playing sports or when wearing tight-fitting clothing.

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