What is a colostomy bag?
A colostomy bag, or stoma bag, is a small pouch used to collect waste from the body. During a surgical procedure known as a colostomy, an opening is formed between the large intestine (colon) and the abdominal wall, allowing waste products to be excreted at this point rather than from the anus. A colostomy bag is placed over the opening – known as the stoma or ostomy – in order to collect stool and other waste from the body.
A colostomy bag, therefore, is a fairly simple device intended to rest the patient’s colon in the case of a temporary colostomy or act as an artificial outlet for the bowel when the procedure is intended as permanent. The use of colostomy bags is surprisingly common and doesn’t necessarily involve a huge change of lifestyle.
When is a colostomy bag needed?
Colostomy bags can be necessary for people of all ages, typically for patients experiencing problems with their colons or when the anal sphincter does not function properly. The colostomy allows the body’s waste to bypass the colon either permanently and temporarily.
A colostomy bag may be necessary for the treatment or management of certain conditions, including:
- Abdominal/pelvic region cancers including colorectal cancer and more rarely anal, vaginal or cervical cancer.
- Inflammatory bowel diseases including Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis and, more rarely, diverticulitis.
- Bowel obstructions or injuries
- Bowel incontinence (in severe cases)
- Hirschsprung’s disease (a rare disease where the bowel lacks nerve cells)
Colostomy bag surgery
There are two main surgical procedures used to create a stoma:
- Loop Colostomy: A loop of the colon is pulled through the stoma, opened, and stitched to the skin. The colostomy bag is then added.
- End Colostomy: The end of the colon is pulled through the colon and stitched to the skin. The colostomy bag is then added.
Both procedures are considered routine, however, the exact method will depend on the medical condition that is being treated. A colostomy is usually done using keyhole surgery, but some situations may require open surgery. Open surgery often has a longer recovery time.
An ileostomy is a procedure similar to a colostomy that also entails the use of a stoma bag, sometimes termed an ileostomy bag to differentiate. This procedure involves bringing the small intestine out of the body to divert waste, then placing a stoma bag over the opening.
A urostomy – also called an ileal conduit – is a procedure that creates a stoma specifically to drain urine when passage through the bladder and urethra is not possible. A urostomy bag, which is of similar design to a colostomy bag, is used to collect the urine, which can then be drained. A urostomy is a permanent procedure.