Life After Ostomy Surgery
There’s no doubt that ostomy surgery is life-changing. The physical and emotional adjustment can be overwhelming and even scary at first. With support, guidance and patience, most people can live an active, happy and healthy life, and even wear fashionable clothes with an ostomy bag.
Going back to work. It will take some time to heal and recover, but going back to work after you and your doctor feel you are ready is an important step toward easing back into normal life. You may need a limited schedule at first until you increase your confidence in caring for and maintaining your ostomy. If your job requires physical activity, lifting or manual labor, talk to your doctor about how to protect your stoma while doing these activities.
Your social life. Life after having an ostomy should not keep you from going out with friends, meeting new people and enjoying new experiences. Dress with confidence. No clothing is off-limits if you have an ostomy. The only thing you may have to consider is the location of your stoma when wearing tight waistbands or belts. It could be a good time to experiment with your style. There are underwear and swimwear designed for people with an ostomy.
Body image/psychological changes. An ostomy results in significant changes to how your body functions, and that means adjusting to those changes both physically and mentally. Before depression or anxiety creep in, try talking about your feelings with a spouse, supportive friend, medical professional or support group.
Your diet. Whether or not your medical condition required a special diet prior to ostomy surgery will determine your diet after surgery. Immediately following your procedure, you’ll start on clear liquids. If you have an ileostomy, you may then move to a low-fiber diet. It will take about six to eight weeks to return to your regular diet. You should avoid foods that commonly cause gas, such as beans, cabbage, onions and spicy foods. If you have an ileostomy, food such as nuts, popcorn and corn, which don’t completely digest, will end up in your pouch and that is normal. It is important to chew your food well. Also be sure to drink lots of water and watch out for symptoms of dehydration, such as dark-colored urine, less-frequent urination, fatigue, dizziness and confusion.
Your medication. Some medications that are taken by mouth may not be as effective in people with an ascending or transverse colostomy or an ileostomy because the medications take longer to absorb. Be sure that any physician you see is aware of your colostomy or ileostomy before prescribing medication.
Get moving. Unless your favorite hobby is a contact sport with lots of potential for injury, you’ll be free to go back to the activities/sports you enjoy after you heal. While you are recovering:
- Don’t lift anything weighing more than 10 pounds for at least six weeks
- Don’t drive until your doctor says it’s OK
- Check with your doctor before resuming regular exercise
- Daily exercise is an important part of keeping you healthy. Your stoma and pouch should not interfere with your daily routine
Odor control. You don’t want to smell your body waste throughout the day, and you certainly don’t want others to notice any odors coming from your ostomy. Pouching systems are designed to control odors. If you have a well-fitting, properly sealed ostomy pouch, you shouldn’t notice odors except when changing or draining the pouch.
If you feel odor is a problem, consider these tips:
- Make sure your pouch isn’t leaking
- Use ostomy accessories such as deodorizing pouch drops, tablets and deodorizing gel sachets that control odors
- Regularly empty your pouch
- Limit foods that increase gas or the smell of feces/urine
Sexuality/sexual activity/intimacy. When you undergo ostomy surgery you may feel that it changes the way you love and can be loved — especially when it comes to your sexual relationship. Although the surgery results in a lot of physical changes, there’s no doubt that when recovery is complete, sexual intimacy can resume and should continue to be an important part of your relationship. Communicating your feelings with your partner is key, as is understanding that sexual activity will not hurt you or harm your stoma. Depending on the type of ostomy surgery, it’s important to know that you may experience some temporary sexual side effects, such as erectile dysfunction in men or problems with vaginal lubrication, sensation or pain during sexual intercourse in women. This depends on the type of surgery you had. You should discuss with your doctor as well.
You can take several steps to feel more confident before intimacy:
- Empty and clean your ostomy pouch and check the seal to make sure it’s tight
- Use an opaque pouch or try a pouch cover
- Choose attractive lingerie and/or purchase cummerbunds made to conceal a pouch or hold it in place. Ask your ostomy nurse about retailers that sell these products.
Showering, bathing and swimming. Pouches are waterproof, so you can shower, bathe or swim with them on. Be sure to empty your pouch before swimming. When you change your pouch, you can take it off and shower. Avoid using moisturizing soap around your stoma. The water will not hurt your stoma; however, just be sure to thoroughly dry your skin with a towel and also let it air dry. Some manufacturers make specialized swimwear and accessories designed specifically for swimming with an ostomy. Ask your physician and WOC nurse about available options.
Travel. Always bring extra pouching systems with you wherever you go, even if it’s a short trip or a visit to your doctor. If you’re going to be away from home for several hours, think about where you’re going and plan ahead. This will help ease anxiety or worry about where bathrooms are located and what you might need.
If traveling by plane, always pack your ostomy supplies in a carry-on bag. For extended vacations, you can arrange to have supplies shipped to you. If traveling by car, store products in a cool place, rather than placing them in a hot trunk or in direct sunlight.