Living Well With a Stoma
Published: 13 February 2020
Published: 13 February 2020
A stoma is a surgically-created artificial opening, where a section or piece of the bowel is brought through the abdomen. It doesn’t only apply to intestines but often when people think of stomas, they are thinking of intestinal stomas.
Stomas are identifiable through their prefix:
When a stoma is created in different parts of the intestines, the faecal matter that it diverts will be different to the faecal matter found in another area. An ileostomy can be expected to produce loose stools because it is closer to the small intestine, while a colostomy will produce soft and formed stools with more flatulence because it is near the rectum.
The site also determines how active a stoma should be. Approximately 300-800mL of faecal matter is produced with an ileostomy, meaning the stoma appliance usually needs to be emptied four to six times a day, whereas a colostomy will generally be active daily (Koutoukidis et al. 2016).
The waste that passes through the stoma is collected in a stoma bag, a pouch made from soft, waterproof material (Clinimed n.d.).
This bag fits securely around the stoma and adheres to the abdomen using an attached or detachable flange, which is made from a breathable material and attaches to the skin using medical-grade adhesives. The type of bag needed will depend on the type of stoma (Clinimed n.d.).
(Australian Council of Stoma Associations inc. n.d.)
A stoma can be permanent or temporary. A permanent stoma generally occurs after a colectomy has been performed, and most often occurs in cases of colorectal cancer. A temporary stoma can be made to give the bowel time to rest for individuals with conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease (Koutoukidis et al. 2016).
Having a stoma can be life-changing for an individual. As well as doctors and nursing being available to assist in this time, the services of a stomal therapist may be useful. They can help prepare the individual and their family for the surgery, and also provide needed support and education following the operation (Koutoukidis et al. 2016).
Having a stoma can potentially decrease an individual’s quality of life and therefore their emotional state must be regularly assessed throughout this time. The person may also benefit from a referral to a mental health professional. Not only does the person with the stoma have to cope with loss of control over their elimination of faeces, they may also experience changes to body image, sexual function, social isolation, stigma, embarrassment and decreased mood (Liao & Qin 2014).
Between 16-26% of patients will experience negative psychological symptoms following a stoma creation immediately postoperatively. These symptoms are commonly anxiety and depression, but can also include suicidal ideation. Alarmingly, a year following their stoma creation, roughly the same percentage of people were still experiencing negative psychological symptoms (Jayarajah et al. 2016; Kyung et al. 2014).
Optimism can be a predictor for lower psychological distress in patients, especially those with a diagnosis of cancer. They may experience hope, as the stoma is a way to potentially help them have a good outcome with their cancer treatment (Liao & Qin 2014).
After a stoma operation a person will need time to recover. This is normal, and the time needed will vary. The stoma will also undergo change in the first couple of weeks after surgery, in terms of both size and output. A person may experience weight gain or loss during this time (Coloplast n.d.).
In general, a stoma should not prevent someone from working, socialising, exercising, travelling or other hobbies. A person’s physical and mental health will be important in determining their quality of life as they adjust to life with a stoma (Coloplast n.d.).
Having a stoma means that a person has no control over when they urinate or defecate. The stoma bag must always be worn to store the output (Coloplast n.d.)
It’s important to keep the skin around the stoma clean and healthy so that the stoma bag is able to attach properly. When the bag is attached in the correct way, there is no risk of smell and reduced risk of skin irritation. A person should be trained in the hospital of how to manage the bag and look after the skin around it (Coloplast n.d.)
For the most part, a person is able to eat and drink as they would usually. A person should monitor how their stoma reacts to certain foods. They should be advised if their stoma requires them to avoid or limit particular foods (Coloplast n.d.)
Following stoma surgery, it’s normal for a person to have concerns about the new appearance of their body. It can take time to get used to the physical changes and they may initially feel less attractive. Some discomfort may occur as a result of having part of the bladder or bowel removed. Advise patients to talk to their partner about ways they could feel more comfortable during this transition (Coloplast n.d.).
Approximately 1.9 million people are living with a stoma. Remind the person they are not alone. It will likely help them to talk to someone about what they are going through.
It is very important for healthcare professionals caring for a patient with a newly-formed stoma to provide them with adequate information and education. Emotional adjustment to the stoma can be facilitated by this information and help improve the confidence of the patient to independently manage their stoma (Farrell & Dempsey 2013).
This education can also have a positive effect on the person’s anxiety levels by teaching them how to independently care for their stoma while they are in a supportive environment.
If you’re in crisis and need support, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. Lifeline is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Sally Moyle is a rehabilitation nurse educator who has completed her masters of nursing (clinical nursing and teaching). She is passionate about education in nursing so that we can become the best nurses possible. Sally has experience in many nursing sectors including rehabilitation, medical, orthopaedic, neurosurgical, day surgery, emergency, aged care, and general surgery. See Educator Profile
Ausmed’s Editorial team is committed to providing high-quality and thoroughly researched content to our readers, free of any commercial bias or conflict of interest. All articles are developed in consultation with healthcare professionals and peer reviewed where necessary, undergoing a yearly review to ensure all healthcare information is kept up to date. See Educator Profile