Description and Characteristics of Ostomies

Ostomies are surgeries that involve major lifestyle changes, especially when they're permanent. They're the only way to save a person's life in some cases. However, they can lead a relatively normal life with the proper training, practice, and support.
Description and Characteristics of Ostomies

Last update: 01 February, 2021

Ostomies are surgically made openings in the skin to aid in the release of waste from the body. Surgeons sometimes make them in the intestines and othertimes in the bladder of a patient. A person requires one when their body can’t expel waste as it should.

This procedure could be temporary or permanent. The first is appropriate for the temporary elimination of waste. Once the malfunctioning area recovers the surgeon closes the opening to reestablish a person’s regular form of elimination.

In contrast, permanent ostomies are for those cases in which there’s irreparable damage to the intestines or bladder and there’s no chance to restore normal functioning. Such cases require waste removal via ostomy for life.

In all cases, the waste that leaves the body through the ostomies goes into a pouch attached to the skin. This pouch must be continuously connected to the opening and its contents emptied often.

Types of ostomies

A nurse holding a device for surgery or ostomies
The classification of ostomies depends on their function and location. Also, the choice between one or another depends on the condition.

There are basically three types of ostomies: colostomy, ileostomy, and urostomy. The first one takes place in the colon, the second in the ileum (the lowest part of the small intestine), and the third in the bladder. Here are the main characteristics of each one of them:

  • A colostomy is a surgical procedure to reroute part of the colon through the abdominal wall to form a stoma (an opening). It has different sizes and could be on the right side of the abdomen, the left, or the center.
  • An ileostomy is surgery to relocate the lower end of the ileum, through an opening in the abdominal wall. It’s usually on the lower right side of the abdomen. Finally, doctors perform this procedure for patients with diseases such as ulcerative colitis, hereditary polyposis, cancer, and Crohn’s disease.
  • A urostomy is a surgical opening to divert urine from the bladder to the outside. It’s most commonly implemented when there’s bladder cancer, birth defects, or a spinal cord injury.

Living with an ostomy

An ostomy significantly changes a person’s life. The first major modification takes place because someone can no longer expel waste when they need to. In fact, they no longer have control over their evacuations and it obviously leads to distress and anxiety. They’re also typically concerned about emitting inappropriate odors and attracting undue attention.

Added to these pressures, it takes some time to learn to empty and fit the pouch attached to the stoma. Accidents are quite common in the beginning, as the pouch must be emptied five to eight times a day. The lack of dexterity is also a bit difficult at first.

As you can imagine, it’s normal to be frustrated and feel uncertainty after this kind of surgery. Experiencing anger and sadness is reasonable. This is because such a situation transforms a person’s self-image and forces them to make some psychosocial adjustments. Thus, it’s important to seek psychological help, if necessary, or just talk about these concerns with someone you trust.

Ostomies in children

A child looking at the camera.
Ostomies have a greater emotional impact on children. Therefore, it’s essential to support them and teach them how to handle leakage and other difficulties.

Ostomies are life-changing for adults but have a greater impact on children, due to their emotional immaturity. It won’t be easy for them to resume their life at first, especially out of fear of being different from others. Also, because they assume others will reject them.

The best thing to do is to be open about it and allow the child to discuss it. Of course, it won’t be easy for them to carry a bag of their own waste everywhere they go. (Note that younger children tend to be more relaxed about this type of situation while teenagers will find it extremely difficult to deal with.)

Finally, children may need some time to adjust to the new situation. In fact, they’ll be particularly afraid of leaks or some other problem with their ostomy. This is why it’s important to teach them how to manage various scenarios. You’ve got to make them feel confident with their own ability to solve problems.

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