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Living with a Colostomy Bag: How To Be More Active

If you have a serious gastroenterology condition such as cancer, inflammatory bowel disease or severe diverticulitis, a colostomy bag might give you more freedom – you won’t have to spend as much time in the bathroom or in bed from the pain.

It's understandable that you might be reluctant to take this step, but learning to live with a colostomy bag may be the difference between freedom or becoming a prisoner in your own home.  

What Is a Colostomy Bag?

During a surgical procedure known as a colostomy, an opening called a stoma or ostomy is formed between the intestine and the abdominal wall. When the opening is in the large bowel (colon) is it is called a colostomy. If it’s in the small bowel, it is typically called an ileostomy.

The bag allows waste products to be excreted through the opening in the abdominal wall rather than via the colon through the rectum and anus. Stools and other waste products are drained into a colostomy bag, which can then be emptied or changed at regular intervals.

A colostomy bag, also called a stoma bag or ostomy bag, is a small waterproof pouch, typically made of plastic. Colostomy bags come in different sizes to be used during the day and at night while sleeping, and they are quite discreet.

Who Needs a Colostomy Bag?

If you have damage to your colon or large intestine, your treatment may involve an ostomy bag. Some conditions that cause such damage include: 

  • Ulcerative colitis 
  • Crohn’s disease 
  • Diverticulitis 
  • Colorectal cancer  
  • Fecal incontinence 

It is important to understand that NOT all ostomy bags are permanent. When it is temporary, a colostomy bag is intended to allow your colon to rest. A permanent colostomy bag acts as a replacement for the bowel.

Living with a Colostomy Bag

You should be able to lead a normal life and take part in all your typical activities, including exercise. Here are a few tips to minimize damage to the colostomy bag: 

  • Carry spare colostomy bags and accessories whenever possible. 
  • Be careful around pets and children who may unintentionally dislodge or damage your colostomy bag. 
  • Avoid food and drinks that cause flatulence, such as carbonated beverages, beans, cauliflower, and cabbage. 
  • Once the stoma has healed, you can play sports and exercise. Special support and smaller, more agile pouches are available.  

Sex with a Colostomy Bag

Sex with a colostomy bag is possible — usually with some adaptations. You may find that some sex positions you enjoyed are now uncomfortable after having surgery. Try distinct positions until you find what works for you. 

After surgery, many women find their vaginas are much drier. Applying a lubricating jelly before sex may help. 

You should avoid having anal sex (if the anus is still in place) after a colostomy because it can cause tearing and bleeding.  

A colostomy bag can allow you to live a full, active life. Many patients say they wish they had scheduled the surgery sooner so they could reclaim their active lifestyles and get back to the activities they enjoy.

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