Common Questions – and Answers – as You Settle in at Home
After your ostomy surgery, your health care providers will explain how to change your ostomy pouch and how to properly care for your stoma and the surrounding skin. You will be given a lot of new information to absorb, and it’s normal to have many unanswered questions, even after you leave the hospital. To help you make the adjustment as you settle in at home, here are 10 of the most frequently asked questions from new ostomy patients, and some helpful answers.
1. What should my stoma look like?
Just like every person’s belly button is distinct, your stoma shape is unique to you. Part of getting the best fit for your ostomy pouch – and preventing leaks – is carefully monitoring your stoma for changes. A healthy stoma will appear red and moist – it looks a lot like the lining of the inside of your mouth. The stoma will be circular or oval in shape. Typically, the stoma will jut out about 1” from your abdomen.
In the weeks after your ostomy surgery, the stoma will be swollen. To protect the skin around your stoma, you’ll need to measure your stoma size and then cut the skin barrier to fit. Generally, you want to cut the shape to be no more than 1/8” larger than the stoma for the best fit.
Your stoma shape may change over time. A weight gain of more than 10 pounds may cause the stoma to be flush with the skin, instead of sticking out. If you’re experiencing leaks, you may need to switch the kind of pouching system you use.
Some people with ostomies may have stomas that are flush with the skin or retract into the skin. A convex pouching system may help the pouching system fit better.
2. What can I eat?
You can resume your normal diet anywhere from a few weeks to several months after surgery, depending on your health care professional’s advice. You may be on a bland diet while your body heals. It’s important to chew foods very thoroughly and stay hydrated. There are also some foods you may want to avoid to lessen odor and gas. Click here for more information
3. What should I wear?
Your pre-surgery wardrobe will be fine, with some minor adjustments to undergarments that have special features and fabrics. These will minimize bulk from your ostomy bag. Here are a variety of undergarments from which to choose. Swimwear to help fit your stome can include higher waists or tighter or draped fronts. Wearing a patterned bathing suit will help camouflage your pouch when swimming. Several companies offer specially made swimsuits for those with an ostomy.
4. Can I travel?
Travelling should be no problem, as long as you pack extra supplies. Put together a supply pack to keep in your carry-on. Emptying your pouch before starting out on your trip will also allow you to travel longer without having to change or empty your pouch.
5. Can I play sports and exercise?
Talk to your health care professional about when you can return to physical activities. Most physicians advise against contact sports in order to protect the stoma. Wearing snug, “biking style” shorts during vigorous activity can help hold your pouching system in place.
6. When should I call my doctor?
As swelling decreases, your stoma will likely change size and shape. If your have excessive bleeding, especially between the stoma and skin, or if you see cuts in the stoma, severe skin irritation or ulcers in the stoma, it’s time to call your doctor. Other symptoms to look for are severe cramps lasting more than two or three hours, continuous nausea and vomiting, or severe watery discharge lasting more than five or six hours.
7. How do I choose supplies?
Just as each person is unique and different, so is the fit of his or her ostomy pouching system. When you wake up from surgery, you will have a pouch attached. You can continue with that style or pouch, or you might want to try out other types of pouching systems. The kind of ostomy pouch that works best for you will depend on the type of ostomy surgery that you had, along with your personal preferences and day-to-day activities. One-piece or two-piece systems, closed or drainable pouches, and a variety of accessories are available. Some people find that it’s helpful to have different ostomy pouches on hand to meet their changing needs. Talk to your WOC (Wound, Ostomy and Continence) nurse to determine which products might be right for you. This article will explain the different types of pouching sytems and advantage of each. Edgepark has ostomy experts on hand who can also answer your questions and recommend products for your unique situation.
8. How do I prevent odor?
A well-fitting ostomy pouching system should not have any odor while you’re wearing it. If you’re noticing odor, check that the there are no leaks in your pouching system. Odor can occur when gas is released from the pouch (for those with colostomies and ileostomies) or from the output when you’re changing your pouch. A combination of diet and special products can help you reduce odor.
9. Who do I tell?
Deciding who to talk to about your ostomy and how much you want to say involves careful consideration. Practicing what you’re going to say beforehand can help. You may also want to come up with a quick reply for when people ask why you’ve been gone. You can decide what and how much you wish to say about your ostomy. Practicing this answer with a close friend or family member can make answering more comfortable and easier for you.
10. Who can I talk to?
Your first source for ostomy information is your health care provider and WOCN. If you need emotional support, there are also many local and national groups with online chats and local meetings that allow you to talk to others living with an ostomy. The United Ostomy Associations of America can help you find a group in your area.