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How Do I Care for an Ostomy Site?

By T. Broderick
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Following the directions of a physician will ensure proper care of one's ostomy site. An ostomy is the opening in the abdomen that reveals a stoma, an opening in the large intestine used to relieve waste when sickness impairs one's ability to do so naturally. Caring for an ostomy site largely depends on cleaning the site and replacing the colostomy bag on a regular basis. Not doing so could lead to gastrointestinal distress and/or infection.

An ostomy site is the end result of a colostomy, a surgical procedure necessary when cancer or other illness has made it impossible for one to eliminate solid waste. During surgery, a small section of healthy large intestine is pulled through a surgical opening in the abdomen. The ostomy is where skin and large intestine, now known as a stoma, meet. Whether the procedure is meant to be temporary or permanent, self-care for the ostomy site is a routine that all patients must follow to ensure good health.

Making sure an ostomy site does not become irritated is the main goal of self-care. An irritated ostomy could make relieving waste uncomfortable. The best way to prevent irritation is to clean the area while changing one's colostomy bag. After removing the bag, it is necessary to properly clean the ostomy site, stoma and surrounding skin. If one uses soap, one must thoroughly rinse the skin as to not leave residue. While the stomach and ostomy are exposed, one must inspect the site for any signs of inflammation, discoloration or bleeding; these are all signs of improper care.

Besides being attentive to the ostomy site during cleaning, correctly using and changing one's colostomy bag is another part of ostomy care. There are two main types of colostomy bags: drainable and closed. No matter which type of bag one uses, both needed to be replaced in regular intervals. As the pouch is held onto the abdomen with an adhesive, it is necessary to slowly remove the bag to prevent both skin irritation and accidental release of fecal matter. After following the cleaning directions described in the previous paragraph, one must make sure that the new bag is in its correct position and firmly in place.

Not following these directions can lead to complications besides irritation and bleeding. Not caring for an ostomy site, especially right after surgery, can cause infection. The bacteria in fecal matter can transfer to the still healing ostomy. Infection may require antibiotics, steroids and even hospitalization.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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