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A Comprehensive Guide to Ostomy

While there are not agreed-upon numbers, it is estimated that 725,000 to one million individuals are living with an ostomy in North America—a surgery that creates an opening in the body to expel waste. The average age of ostomates has been cited at 68.3. Ostomies are commonly performed to treat rectal, colon, cervical, and bladder cancers, as well as other cancers of the pelvic regions. It has also been used for issues related to inflammatory bowel disease, congenital issues like spina bifida and Hirschprung’s, as well as genetic disorders and accident-related perforations.

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The most common types of ostomies include the ileostomy (created from the ileum, part of the small intestine); ascending colostomy (from the ascending colon); descending colostomy (from the descending colon); sigmoid colostomy (made from the last part of the colon), loop ostomy (which can be from any part of the small intestine or colon), or urostomy (which diverts urine from the bladder, usually via an ileal or cecal conduit).

Following surgery, a patient cares for his or her stoma—the part of the intestine brought out of an abdomen. The ostomy is the actual opening created during the operation. An appliance called a pouch, also known as a flange, contains the waste and protects the skin.

Fortunately, medical advances are making it easier than ever for patients undergoing ostomies to resume normal lives after treatment. Even as an ostomate ages, careful planning and consulting ostomy resources can ensure stable quality of life.

Getting used to an ostomy can take some time. But individuals with ostomies can do most of what they enjoyed before their surgery—including work, swim, travel, play sports, be sexually active, and wear almost any type of clothing they like. An important consideration for a permanent ostomy is watching for body and brain changes as time goes on so that a stoma may be properly cared for.