Ostomy: Adapting to life after colostomy, ileostomy or urostomy

Learn all you can about life with an ostomy. Use this information to boost your self-esteem and help you adapt to your ostomy.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

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It takes time to become comfortable with an ostomy — a surgically created opening in your abdomen that allows waste or urine to leave your body.

Many questions may run through your mind as you plan your first ventures outside of your home. Can you go back to work after colostomy? Can you ride your bike if you have an ileostomy? Will everyone figure out you've had urostomy surgery just by looking at you?

You can do many of the same activities you enjoyed before your colostomy or other ostomy surgery.

You can eat whatever you want if you have an ostomy

Have a favorite dish? If you've been given the OK from your doctor to resume your regular diet, eat what you like. If you have a colostomy or ileostomy, you'll find that various foods affect your digestive tract differently.

Just as some foods gave you gas before your surgery, you'll likely experience gas with certain foods now that you have an ostomy. While you may choose to eat gas-causing foods sparingly or only at times when the gas won't make you self-conscious — such as when you're at home, rather than at work — it doesn't mean you shouldn't ever eat gas-causing foods.

Certain foods are more likely to cause gas, diarrhea, constipation, incomplete digestion or urine odor. But which ones have these effects will depend on your body.

If you're unsure how foods will affect you, consider trying them at home, one at a time, before eating them in public. Knowing how each food affects your digestion means you'll spend less time worrying about the food's effects and more time having fun with friends.

It may help to chew your food thoroughly and drink plenty of water.

Common intestinal reactions to certain foods
Gas Asparagus, beans, beer, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carbonated beverages, cauliflower, onions, peas
Incomplete digestion Apple peels, cabbage, celery, coconut, corn, dried fruit, mushrooms, nuts, pineapple, popcorn, seeds, skins from fruits, skins from vegetables
Thickened stool Applesauce, bananas, cheese, pasta, rice, peanut butter (creamy), potato (without skin), tapioca
Thinned stool Fried foods, grape juice, high-sugar foods, prune juice, spicy foods
Increased odor Alcohol, asparagus, broccoli, dried beans, eggs, fish, garlic, onions, peas
Reduced odor Buttermilk, cranberry juice, parsley, yogurt
Source: Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, United Ostomy Associations of America

If you have a urostomy, you might be concerned about urine odor. Certain foods can cause a stronger urine odor, but you can minimize that by drinking water or cranberry juice.

Controlling urine odor
Increases odor Asparagus, fish, garlic, onions
Decreases odor Eight to 10 glasses of water, cranberry juice or other noncaffeinated beverages daily
Source: United Ostomy Associations of America

You can participate in sports if you have an ostomy

Unless your favorite hobby is a contact sport with lots of potential for injury, you'll be free to go back to the activities you enjoy after you heal from ostomy surgery. The main danger is injury to the opening where waste or urine leaves your body (stoma), which means rough sports may be out.

If you want to continue these pursuits, ask your doctor or ostomy nurse about special products you can use and precautions you can take to protect your stoma during these activities.

Check with your doctor before you begin lifting weights after your surgery. You may need to wait for your surgical incision to heal before lifting weights, to reduce your risk of complications. Once you're fully healed, your doctor or an ostomy nurse might recommend a device to support your abdomen when lifting weights.

If you're nervous that running, swimming or other athletic activity will loosen your ostomy bag and cause a leak, use a special belt or binder to hold your ostomy bag in place. Check with your local medical supply store or look online for specialty products for active people with ostomies.

You can go back to work if you have an ostomy

You'll need time after your surgery to heal and recover, but you can eventually go back to work. You might choose to ease back into work or talk with your employer about a limited schedule until you feel more confident with your ostomy.

If your line of work involves manual labor or lots of lifting, your doctor may recommend ways to protect your stoma on the job.

Consider going back to work once you're feeling well. If you're nervous about caring for your ostomy at work, talk to your doctor or an ostomy nurse.

Don't let worrying get the best of you. Returning to work is a good way to transition back to a normal routine, and working again can make you feel good about yourself.

You can tell — or not tell — whomever you want about your ostomy

It's up to you to decide who to tell about your ostomy surgery. It may make sense to tell the people closest to you. These people may be worried about your recovery, and explaining your ostomy may ease their fears. Talking with loved ones is also a healthy way to cope with your emotions.

Acquaintances may be curious about why you've been away from work or know that you were in the hospital and ask about your illness. Think ahead about what to say when questions arise. You could say you've had abdominal surgery or use another basic description without going into details if you're uncomfortable discussing your ostomy with people you don't know well.

Other people will need to know about your ostomy for practical purposes. If you don't have a desk or locker at work to store extra ostomy supplies, for instance, you might need to reveal some details of your ostomy to someone at work so that such arrangements can be made.

Some people keep their ostomy surgery private, and others prefer to tell anyone who asks. Who you tell is up to you, but you may find you're more willing to discuss the details as you become more comfortable caring for your ostomy.

Aug. 21, 2014 See more In-depth