What Is an Ostomy? - Definition, Types & Complications

Instructor: Danielle Haak

Danielle has a PhD in Natural Resource Sciences and a MSc in Biological Sciences

An ostomy is an artificial opening surgically made in the abdomen to allow for the removal of waste materials. Read this lesson to learn why an ostomy is needed, go over the different types, and discover what complications can arise.

What is an Ostomy?

Undergoing surgery can be a complicated endeavor. When a person needs surgery on their lower body, specific issues can arise. One of these is -- how will the patient dispose of waste once surgery impacts their lower organs? That's where an ostomy comes in.

As ostomy is an artificial opening that surgeons make in the abdomen of some patients. It allows waste materials to be transported out of the body. Depending on the type of ostomy, an organ is connected to the opening (also called a stoma) so that other organs can be skipped in the waste removal system. This detour may be temporary or permanent. If a patient is being prepped for surgery on one of the lower organs, it is probably temporary; however, if parts of the body are being removed, then it is likely permanent.

An example of an ostomy on the surface of the skin

Types of Ostomy

There are a number of different types of ostomy. Here are the major three:

1. Colostomy: the colon (large intestine) connects to the opening, skipping the rectum and the anus. Parts of the colon are completely removed. Temporary colostomies can be used to allow parts of the colon to heal, and permanent colostomies are typically due to the rectum being surgically removed.

2. Ileostomy: the ileum (end of small intestine) connects to the opening, skipping the colon, rectum, and anus.

3. Urostomy: the bladder is skipped completely; rather urine empties out of the opening. Usually, the bladder is infected or diseased and no longer functions properly, necessitating the need for a urostomy.

In all three types, a bag is attached to the opening on the outside of the body and is used to collect waste. Bags can be emptied or completely switched out as needed and are surprisingly discreet. There are many different bag systems to choose from, so patients can work with their doctors to choose the ones that best fits their lifestyle.

An ostomy bag or pouch in place
ostomy bag

Ostomy Complications

Surgeries requiring an ostomy can have a strong psychological pull on patients, and using an ostomy can take awhile to adjust to. However, there can be physical complications as well. A few of the most common ones are described here.

1. A retracted ostomy: the ostomy is pulled into the body, either because skin begins to grow around it or because there isn't enough intestine for the bag to rest comfortably on the outside of the body. This can result in stool leakages and skin sores due to irritation.

2. A peristomal ostomy: the area around the ostomy bulges away from the body (the opposite effect of a retracted ostomy). This can cause blockages in the system.

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