May 21, 2024

Beyond the Bag: Embracing Life After Colostomy Surgery

A colostomy bag is a medical device that collects waste from a surgically created stoma in the abdomen. A stoma is an artificial opening on the abdomen which allows bowel waste, known as effluent, to exit the body. This opening is called a colostomy and is created using part of the large intestine or colon during colorectal surgery. Colostomy bags are adhered or clipped securely around the stoma to collect bowel movements outside of the body.

Types of Colostomies

There are two main types of colostomies depending on whether the waste exits through a temporary or permanent stoma:

Temporary Colostomy: In some cases of trauma, infection or inflammatory bowel disease, a temporary colostomy may be performed to allow the bowel to heal. During this type of colostomy, stool exits through the stoma but the healthy parts of the large intestine remain intact. Once healed, the stoma can be reversed through a follow-up surgery to restore bowel continuity.

Permanent Colostomy: Certain conditions like cancer, severe inflammation or birth defects may require removing parts of the large intestine on a permanent basis. This leaves the patient with a permanent stoma for bowel waste to exit. For permanent colostomies, the stoma cannot be reversed and the patient will need to use colostomy bags for the rest of their life.

Types of Colostomy Bags

There are several categories of colostomy bags available based on attachment mechanisms and usage preferences:

One-Piece Bags: These bags have an adhesive flange already attached to the bag for direct adhesion to the skin. They are easy to use but not as adjustable.

Two-Piece Bags: These consist of a separate pouch and flange which are connected via clips, tapes or adapters. They offer more customization but take slightly more effort to apply.

Draining Bags: For temporary colostomies, drainable bags collect effluent in the bag but also allow controlled drainage for emptying. This maintains bag capacity.

Closed-End Bags: These are permanently sealed bags designed for disposal after each use. Effluent cannot drain out, requiring complete bag replacement.

Accessories like deodorants, skin barriers and clips are also available to improve comfort, adhesion and discretion.

How Colostomy Bags Work

Applying a colostomy bag involves properly preparing the skin and securely attaching the bag around the stoma. This ensures effluent is collected inside the bag instead of leaking onto the skin:

1. Cleanse and dry the skin around the stoma thoroughly. Gently apply a protective skin barrier if recommended.

2. Shape the adhesive flange to fit snugly around the stoma, leaving no gaps. Press it firmly against the skin.

3. Connect the pouch or bag to the flange using clips, tapes or adapters depending on the type. Ensure a tight seal is formed.

4. Empty the bag when one third to half full by either draining effluent out of a drainable bag or replacing a closed-end bag completely.

5. Check the bag and skin regularly for leaks. Replace as needed, usually every 1-3 days.

With practice, most people get very skilled at discreetly applying and emptying colostomy bags with minimal disruption to daily activities. Proper adherence is key to avoiding leaks and maintaining skin health.

Managing a Colostomy

Some important aspects of managing life with a colostomy include:

Diet and Fluid Intake: A balanced diet with adequate fiber, protein and fluids helps form stool consistency that is less likely to leak from bags.

Exercise: Regular light activity keeps bowels functioning smoothly without complications. But high-impact exercise may require extra bag security.

Skin Care: Using protective barriers, keeping the area clean and dry prevents irritation and infection. Medical tapes can secure bags during swimming or bathing.

Bag Emptying: Establishing a routine and carrying supplies allows discreet emptying as needed while on the go.

Travel: Taking enough supplies, simple medical records and contacting doctors at destinations eases travel worries. TSA does not require bags to be emptied.

Support Groups: Interacting with others living ostomy lifestyles boosts confidence and problem-solving through shared experiences.

With some adjustments, colostomy bags allow people to regain independence and resume normal routines after surgery. Access to supplies and support yield high quality of life long-term. Through awareness, associated social stigmas also continue diminishing.

Colostomy bags are indispensable medical devices that help patients bypass diseased or damaged bowels. With proper usage and management, they discreetly collect effluent to maintain dignity and hygiene following colorectal procedures. Overcoming initial adaptation challenges leads to regaining control with long-term ostomy care.


  1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
  2. We have leveraged AI tools to mine information and compile it