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Living With an Ostomy

Topic Overview

It takes time to adjust to an ostomy. But you will be able to work, participate in sports and physical activities, be intimate with your partner, and resume your social life after an ostomy.

Medicine

Most medicine is absorbed in the small intestine. If you have an ostomy, how well a medicine is absorbed depends on how much functioning intestine you have and the form of the medicine. Coated pills and time-release medicines may pass through the intestine too quickly to be absorbed. If possible, use liquid medicines. Tell all your health professionals (doctors and pharmacist) about the type of ostomy you have and the location of the stoma (the exposed end of the intestine). Your doctor can help you determine the best form of medicine for you and whether you need to vary the dosage.

If your rectum has been removed, carry a card with you that states that you cannot be given rectal enemas or suppositories or have your temperature taken rectally.

Diet

After surgery, your diet will gradually move from a largely liquid diet to your previous diet. This transition generally takes about 6 weeks. Foods that were not always fully digested before your surgery—such as corn—will remain undigested, and you will notice them in your ostomy pouch. This is normal.

If your colon (large intestine) was removed, you will lose more water, because the stool no longer passes through the large intestine where water is absorbed. Your doctor may recommend that you drink more fluids each day and that you not restrict salt (sodium) in your diet. If a large part of your small intestine was removed (as well as your colon), you may need to pay attention to your diet to make sure you get enough potassium, sodium, and other essential nutrients. Your doctor may recommend a vitamin or mineral supplement.

Some foods may cause odor, gas, or diarrhea, and some may cause an obstruction in an ileostomy.

Foods that can cause problems with an ostomy
Foods that cause odor Foods that cause gas Foods that cause diarrhea Foods that may cause obstruction in an ileostomy
  • Eggs
  • Garlic
  • Onions
  • Fish
  • Asparagus
  • Cabbage
  • Broccoli
  • Alcohol
  • Beans
  • Cabbage
  • Onions
  • Beer
  • Carbonated drinks
  • Cheese
  • Sprouts
  • Alcohol
  • Cabbage
  • Spinach
  • Green beans
  • Coffee
  • Spicy foods
  • Raw fruits
  • Nuts
  • Raisins
  • Popcorn
  • Seeds
  • Chocolate
  • Raw vegetables
  • Corn

Work

You will probably be able to continue in your present job. The only types of work that you may not be able to perform are those requiring heavy lifting. Talk with your doctor to learn about any occupational limitations you may need to consider.

Clothing

You will probably be able to wear the same clothing. Tight clothes will not hurt your stoma. If you have trouble hiding your ostomy pouch, or if it shows through your clothing, your wound, ostomy, and continence nurse may have suggestions.

Travel

You can continue to travel. Empty or change your ostomy pouch before beginning your trip. When traveling by plane, bring extra ostomy supplies in carry-on baggage, not checked baggage. If traveling by car, store your supplies in a cool place.

Intimacy

You will be able to have intimacy and sexual relations. An ostomy does not affect sexual function. Sexual activity, hugging, and other forms of affection will not hurt your stoma. You may want to consider getting a cover for your ostomy pouch so that waste is not visible.

Many of the problems relating to intimacy may be more emotional than physical. You may be concerned with ability, body image, and what others think. See your doctor, counselor, or a therapist for help coping with any problems concerning intimacy or your self-image.

Pregnancy

Women with ostomies can become pregnant. But talk with your doctor about how much time is needed after surgery before becoming pregnant.

Physical activity and sports

Immediately after the ostomy, your activities will be restricted to ensure healing. Guidelines for this period include:

  • Not driving for 3 weeks from the date of surgery if you are on pain medicines after surgery.
  • Not lifting more than 10 lb (4.5 kg) for 6 weeks, which decreases the risk for hernias.

After this period you should be able to resume normal activities. Noncontact activities, such as swimming, hiking, camping, and tennis, should be no problem. If you had an exercise routine, talk to your doctor about when you can restart it and whether it is possible to participate in contact sports, such as football, karate, and basketball, which could result in injury to the stoma.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Arvydas D. Vanagunas, MD - Gastroenterology
Last Revised October 8, 2012

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