How the stoma works
When the bowel moves, wind and waste matter come out through the stoma. You cannot control when this happens, so a small disposable bag is worn on the outside of the body to collect the waste matter. This is called a stoma bag or an appliance.
Stoma bags have adhesive on the back so they stick securely to the skin and provide a leak-proof, odour-proof system. A filter lets out any wind (but not the odour), which should stop the wind inflating the bag. The bag usually can’t be seen under clothing.
Stoma bags can be drainable or closed. With a colostomy, the bag may be drainable or closed, depending on the consistency of your waste matter. With an ileostomy, you wear a drainable bag.
Attaching the bag
A stomal therapy nurse will help you choose an appliance that suits your body shape and the stoma, and will explain how to attach it securely.
Emptying the bag
How often you need to empty a stoma bag is also affected by what you eat and drink.
A drainable bag can be emptied in the toilet when it is about one-third full. A closed bag can be put in a rubbish bin, not flushed down the toilet after each bowel movement.
A colostomy bag may need to be emptied 1–3 times a day depending on how much large bowel was removed, while an ileostomy bag may need to be emptied 4–6 times a day because the waste is more watery.
Some people don’t like having to wear a stoma bag. If you have a colostomy in your descending colon, you may be able to learn how to give yourself a type of enema (colostomy irrigation) to remove faeces every day or two. Talk to your doctor and stomal therapy nurse about this option.
A/Prof David A Clark, Colorectal Surgeon, Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, and The University of Queensland, QLD, and The University of Sydney, NSW; A/Prof Siddhartha Baxi, Radiation Oncologist and Medical Director, GenesisCare Gold Coast, QLD; Dr Hooi Ee, Specialist Gastroenterologist and Head, Department of Gastroenterology, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, WA; Annie Harvey, Consumer; A/Prof Louise Nott, Medical Oncologist, Icon Cancer Centre, Hobart, TAS; Caley Schnaid, Accredited Practising Dietitian, GenesisCare, St Leonards and Frenchs Forest, NSW; Chris Sibthorpe, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council Queensland; Dr Alina Stoita, Gastroenterologist and Hepatologist, St Vincent’s Hospital Sydney, NSW; Catherine Trevaskis, Gastrointestinal Cancer Specialist Nurse, Canberra Hospital, ACT; Richard Vallance, Consumer.
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