Living With an Ostomy

Overview

Right after the ostomy surgery, your activities will be restricted to ensure healing. During this time, don't lift more than 10 lb (4.5 kg) for 6 weeks. This decreases the risk for hernias.

After this period, you probably will be able to resume normal activities. Noncontact activities, such as swimming, hiking, camping, and tennis, are usually fine. If you had an exercise routine, talk to your doctor about when you can restart it. Ask your doctor before you take part in contact sports that could injure the stoma. These sports include football, karate, and basketball.

Diet

After ostomy surgery, what you eat will gradually change from a largely liquid diet to your previous diet. This change generally takes about 6 weeks. Foods that you didn't fully digest before your surgery—such as corn—will remain undigested. You'll notice them in your ostomy pouch. This is normal.

If your colon (large intestine) was removed, you will lose more water, because the stool no longer passes through the large intestine where water is absorbed. Your doctor may suggest that you drink more fluids each day and that you not restrict salt (sodium) in your diet. If a large part of your small intestine was removed (along with your colon), you may need to pay attention to your diet. Make sure that you get enough potassium, sodium, and other essential nutrients. Your doctor may recommend a vitamin or mineral supplement.

Some foods may cause odor, gas, or diarrhea. Some may cause an obstruction in an ileostomy.

Foods that cause odor

These foods and drinks include:

  • Eggs.
  • Cabbage.
  • Onions.
  • Fish.
  • Asparagus.
  • Garlic.
  • Broccoli.
  • Alcohol.

Foods that cause gas

These foods and drinks include:

  • Beans.
  • Cabbage.
  • Onions.
  • Beer.
  • Fizzy (carbonated) drinks.
  • Cheese.
  • Sprouts.

Foods that cause diarrhea

These foods and drinks include:

  • Alcohol.
  • Cabbage.
  • Spinach.
  • Green beans.
  • Coffee.
  • Raw fruits.
  • Spicy foods.

Foods that can cause an obstruction in an ileostomy

These foods include:

  • Nuts.
  • Raisins.
  • Popcorn.
  • Seeds.
  • Chocolate.
  • Raw vegetables.
  • Corn.

Medicines

When you have an ostomy, most medicine is absorbed in the small intestine. How well a medicine is absorbed depends on how much functioning intestine you have and the form of the medicine. Coated pills and time-release medicines may pass through the intestine too quickly to be absorbed. If you can, use liquid medicines.

Tell all your health professionals (doctors and pharmacist) about the type of ostomy you have and the location of the stoma (the exposed end of the intestine). Your doctor can help you choose the best form of medicine for you. He or she can tell you if you need to vary the dosage.

If your rectum has been removed, carry a special card with you. The card states that you can't be given rectal enemas or suppositories. It also states that you can't have your temperature taken rectally.

Work

When you have an ostomy, you will probably be able to stay in your present job. The only types of work that you may not be able to perform are those that require heavy lifting. Talk with your doctor to learn about any work limitations you may need to consider.

Clothing

After an ostomy, you will probably be able to wear the same clothing. Tight clothes won't hurt your stoma. If you have trouble hiding your ostomy pouch, or if it shows through your clothing, you can ask your wound, ostomy, and continence nurse for suggestions.

Travel

You can continue to travel after an ostomy. Empty or change your ostomy pouch before you start your trip. When you travel by plane, bring extra ostomy supplies in your carry-on bags, not your checked bags. If you travel by car, store your supplies in a cool place.

Intimacy

After you have an ostomy, you will be able to be intimate and have sex. An ostomy doesn't affect sexual function. Sexual activity, hugging, and other forms of affection won't hurt your stoma. You may want to get a cover for your ostomy pouch so that waste isn't visible.

Many of the problems relating to intimacy may be more emotional than physical. You may worry about your body image or your ability to have sex. Or maybe you're concerned about what others might think. See your doctor, counselor, or a therapist for help coping with any problems concerning intimacy or your self-image.

Pregnancy

Women with ostomies can become pregnant. But talk with your doctor about how much time you'll need after surgery before you become pregnant.

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