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Dr QM Leong
Dr QM Leong

Ostomy Bag Vs Colostomy Bag: 3 Differences And Essential Tips

If you’re on the path to receiving an ostomy, you might feel overwhelmed or anxious. Living with an ostomy or colostomy bag will be a significant adjustment, but understanding their purposes and how they work can make a difference.

This guide explains the key differences between ostomy and colostomy bags, providing essential tips to help you easily manage this new aspect of life.

What Is An Ostomy Bag?

An ostomy is a surgical procedure that creates an opening in the abdomen to allow the elimination of bodily wastes.

This procedure is often necessary when the natural routes for waste elimination (like the rectum or urethra) are not functioning due to disease, injury, or surgical intervention. The external opening created is called a stoma.

An ostomy bag is a general term for a medical device that attaches to the stoma. Its primary function is to collect waste exiting the body. This device is crucial for people who have undergone ostomy surgery, as it allows them to manage waste efficiently and hygienically.

Some ostomies are temporary and are created to divert waste and give part of the intestine time to heal after surgery or injury. Once healing is complete, a second surgery is performed to reverse the ostomy and reattach the intestines.

In other cases, the ostomy is permanent. This might be due to the removal of a significant portion of the intestine, rectum, or colon due to diseases like colorectal cancer, Crohn’s disease, or ulcerative colitis. In such cases, the individual must wear an ostomy bag for life.

Types of Ostomies

  • Ileostomy: Involves the small intestine. The bag collects liquid and semi-liquid waste.
  • Urostomy: Associated with the urinary system. The bag collects urine.
  • Colostomy: Involves the large intestine. The bag collects faecal matter.

What Is A Colostomy Bag?

A colostomy bag is an ostomy bag for individuals undergoing colostomy surgery. During this procedure, a part of the large intestine is brought out through the abdominal wall to form a stoma.

Colostomies are often necessitated by conditions such as colorectal cancer, diverticulitis, or injuries to the colon and can also be temporary or permanent.

Colostomy bags collect faecal matter and are essential for patients who cannot use their lower colon or rectum. It’s different from an ileostomy, which involves the small intestine and results in more liquid waste.

The management of a colostomy bag is generally less demanding in terms of frequency of emptying compared to an ileostomy bag. However, individuals may need to make dietary adjustments to manage odour and maintain the consistency of their waste.

3 Key Differences Between Ostomy Bags And Colostomy Bags

As mentioned, a colostomy bag is a specific type of ostomy bag. While all ostomy bags collect bodily waste, they are used for different stomas and conditions.

This section will explain the differences between colostomy bags and the other types of ostomy bags, which are ileostomy and urostomy.

1. Types Of Waste Collected

Among the main purposes of using Ileostomy, Urostomy, and Colostomy bags is to collect waste. The type of waste will be different for each type of ostomy bag.

  • Ostomy Bags: These are versatile in terms of the types of waste they collect. An ileostomy bag, for instance, is designed to collect more liquid and semi-liquid waste from the small intestine, where full water absorption doesn’t occur. On the other hand, Urostomy bags are used for urine collection when the bladder or lower urinary tract is bypassed.
  • Colostomy Bags: These are specifically tailored to collect faecal matter from the colon. The waste is generally more solid compared to what is collected in ileostomy bags. The design and structure of colostomy bags take into account the consistency and nature of the waste, ensuring comfort and preventing leaks.

2. Location Of The Stoma

Where your ostomy bag will be located depends on where the stoma is. It varies significantly depending on the type of surgery performed. 

  • Ostomy Bags: For ileostomies, the stoma is located on the small intestine, often on the right side of the abdomen. Urostomies involve a stoma connected to the urinary tract, typically located in a different abdominal area.
  • Colostomy Bags: For colostomy bags, the stoma is consistently located on a section of the large intestine, usually on the lower left side of the abdomen. This specificity in location is directly linked to the portion of the colon used to create the stoma and its accessibility for bag attachment.

3. Frequency Of Emptying And Changing

Because the ostomy bags collect waste from the body, they must be emptied regularly to maintain hygiene, avoid infections, and prevent them from becoming heavy.

  • Ostomy Bags: These bags typically need to be emptied more frequently than colostomy bags. Ileostomy bags, for instance, collect liquid and semi-liquid waste, which can fill the bag quickly. Urostomy bags, which collect urine, also require frequent emptying.
  • Colostomy Bags: Since colostomy bags collect more solid faecal matter, they generally don’t need to be emptied as often. The frequency of changing the bag can vary depending on the individual’s bowel habits and the consistency of the output.

Tips For Individuals With Ostomy Or Colostomy Bags

Living with an ostomy or colostomy bag involves many adjustments, but with the right practices, individuals can lead generally comfortable and active lives. Here are some essential tips for managing life with an ostomy or colostomy bag:

  • Understand Your Equipment: Familiarise yourself with the type of bag you have – whether it’s a drainable or closed pouch, one-piece or two-piece system. Know how to properly fit and secure your bag to prevent leaks and skin irritation.
  • Regular Bag Maintenance: Empty your bag when it’s one-third to half full to avoid leaks and bulging. Change it as recommended, typically every 3-5 days for colostomy bags and 1-2 days for ileostomy bags.
  • Skin Care: Keep the skin around the stoma clean and dry. Use mild soap and water; avoid alcohol-based products. Inspect your skin for any signs of irritation or infection regularly.
  • Diet and Hydration: Stay hydrated, especially if you have an ileostomy, as you’re more prone to losing fluid. Monitor how your body reacts to different foods. Some foods may increase gas and odour or affect the consistency of your output.
  • Odour Control: Use deodorising products specifically designed for ostomy bags. Be mindful of foods that may cause odour, and adjust your diet accordingly.
  • Dressing Comfortably: Wear clothes that make you feel comfortable and confident. Loose-fitting clothes can help conceal the bag. Special ostomy underwear and support belts are available for added security.
  • Be Prepared: Always carry a spare kit with extra supplies when you’re out. Have emergency contact information and instructions handy in case you need assistance.
  • Protect Your Stoma: When engaging in activities, consider wearing a stoma guard or support belt to protect the stoma area from impacts or excessive pressure.

Activity Guidelines

Living with an ostomy or colostomy bag does require some adjustments in daily activities, but it doesn’t mean you have to give up your active lifestyle. Here’s a guide on the activities you can engage in and those you should be cautious about:

Activities You Can Do

  • Exercise and Fitness: Most forms of exercise, including walking, running, yoga, and swimming, are fine. Start with low-impact exercises and gradually increase intensity as comfort and confidence grow.
  • Swimming: Swimming is possible with an ostomy or colostomy bag. Use waterproof covers and special swimwear designed for ostomy bags.
  • Travel: Travelling is not restricted. Just plan ahead by packing extra supplies and being aware of restroom locations.
  • Work: Most people can return to work. However, if your job is physically strenuous, discuss appropriate adjustments with your employer and healthcare provider.

Activities To Be Cautious About

  • Heavy Lifting and High-Impact Sports: Avoid heavy lifting and high-impact activities that pressure the abdomen and stoma. Sports like football, wrestling, or martial arts might require additional protection or need to be avoided.
  • Extreme Sports: Activities with a high risk of abdominal injury, such as skydiving or motocross, should be approached with caution.
  • Hot Tubs and Saunas: Prolonged exposure to heat can affect the adhesive on the ostomy appliance. Limit time and monitor the seal.
  • Contact Sports: Sports where direct hits to the abdomen likely require special protective gear or may be inadvisable.

What To Do If The Ostomy Bag Gets Damaged During An Activity

If your colostomy or ostomy bag gets damaged, you must address the issue promptly to maintain hygiene and avoid serious infection. Here’s what you should do:

  • Stay Calm and Prepared: First, try to stay calm. It’s helpful to always have a spare kit with supplies (extra bags, skin barrier, wipes, disposal bags) for such situations.
  • Contain the Situation: If the bag leaks, cover the area with clean, absorbent material like towels or tissues to contain any spillage. Prepare to change the bag as soon as possible. Find a private, clean space to do this.
  • Remove the Damaged Bag: Carefully remove the damaged bag. If you’re using a two-piece system, you may only need to replace the bag and not the skin barrier/wafer.
  • Clean the Stoma Area: Clean the skin around the stoma gently with warm water and dry it thoroughly. Avoid using soaps with oils or perfumes, as they can interfere with the adhesion of the new bag.
  • Inspect the Skin: Check the skin around the stoma for any signs of irritation or injury. If there’s noticeable skin damage or irritation, you may need to apply a protective barrier before attaching the new bag.
  • Attach a New Bag: Follow your usual procedure for attaching a new bag, ensuring a secure and comfortable fit. Seal the damaged bag in a disposable bag and dispose of it according to your usual practice.

When To Contact Your Doctor About Your Ostomy Bag

Contacting your doctor for a damaged ostomy or colostomy bag is crucial under certain circumstances. Here are situations when you should reach out to your healthcare provider:

  • Persistent Leaks or Frequent Bag Failures: If you’re experiencing repeated leaks or your bag seems to fail frequently, it could indicate an issue with the fit or type of the bag. This can lead to skin irritation or infections, which need medical attention.
  • Skin Irritation or Infection: If the skin around your stoma becomes red, irritated, swollen, or shows signs of infection (like pus or a foul odour), contact your doctor. These symptoms can arise from prolonged exposure to waste due to leaks or improper fitting.
  • Allergic Reactions: If you suspect you’re allergic to the bag or any supplies (adhesives, skin barriers), seek medical advice. Symptoms can include rash, itching, or hives around the stoma site.
  • Changes in Stoma Appearance: Any significant changes in the stoma’s size, colour, or condition should be reported. Look for signs like swelling, discolouration, or retraction into the abdomen.
  • Pain or Discomfort: While some discomfort is normal, especially post-surgery, persistent or severe pain around the stoma is not, as it may indicate an underlying issue that needs to be addressed.
  • Changes in Output: Noticeable changes like your stoma’s output, such as blood in the waste or a drastic change in consistency, should prompt a call to your doctor.

Conclusion About Ostomy Bag And Colostomy Bag

Living with an ostomy or colostomy bag is a significant adjustment, but it can become just another part of your routine with the right information and support. Remember, you’re not alone in this journey.

At Advanced Colorectal And General Surgery, we offer colonoscopy screening to diagnose the underlying condition necessitating a colostomy, such as colorectal cancer, diverticulitis, and bowel obstruction

Our colorectal specialist can help perform the required surgical procedures and provide comprehensive care for those needing a colostomy. Schedule a consultation today!

Frequently Asked Questions About Ostomy Bags And Colostomy Bags

Will My Diet Need To Change?

You may need to modify your diet, especially soon after surgery. Some foods can affect output consistency and odour. It’s best to introduce new foods gradually and monitor their effects.

Can I Shower Or Bathe With My Ostomy Bag On?

Yes, you can shower or bathe with the bag on or off. However, protecting the stoma from direct, high-pressure water is important.

Can I Lead A Normal Life With An Ostomy Bag Or A Colostomy Bag?

Absolutely. Many individuals with colostomy bags lead active, fulfilling lives. It might require some adjustments but generally doesn’t hinder everyday activities.

Can The Colostomy Bag Come Off Accidentally?

Proper fitting and securement make it unlikely for a colostomy bag to come off accidentally. Using support garments can provide extra security.