13 Tips to Help You Adjust to Life with an Ostomy Bag

June 07,2023 |
Ostomy support group talking in a circle.

Ostomies are life-saving surgeries, but that doesn’t mean undergoing one is easy to process. Life with an ostomy comes with several new challenges, both physically and mentally. Although it can be a difficult transition at first, there are several things you can do to help you adjust. After a while, living with an ostomy will become second nature, and some days you might not even have to think much about it. Here are 13 tips to help you adjust to life with an ostomy bag.


1. Learn About Your Ostomy Bag

The first step in adjusting to life with an ostomy bag is educating yourself on what it is and how it works. Ostomy bags are medical devices that collect waste from the body after an ostomy. They’re attached to the surgical opening on the abdomen, known as a stoma.

Your ostomy will vary depending on the type of surgery you get. A colostomy is created when the colon is brought to the surface of the abdomen. An ileostomy is created from the small intestine. A urostomy is created when the bladder is removed, or urine is diverted to the surface of the abdomen due to a medical condition.

The bag collects waste as it passes through the stoma and will need to be emptied and changed regularly. To avoid leaks or other skin irritations, it’s essential to have a good seal surrounding the stoma. Your doctor or ostomy nurse will help you better understand everything you need to know about your ostomy bag.


2. Explore the Different Types of Ostomy Bags

Next, you’ll want to explore the different types of ostomy bags available to you. Oftentimes, the one you choose is purely based on personal preference, so don’t be afraid to try a few out and see which one works best.

One-piece bags combine an adhesive wafer and the pouch into a single device. They’re usually easier to apply and dispose of but may require more frequent changes. Two-piece bags have separate adhesive wafers and pouches that are then attached. This makes it easy to remove the pouch without changing the wafer. Drainable bags have an opening at the bottom that can be quickly emptied. Close-end bags are meant to be used once and disposed of entirely once full. These are more common for people who have temporary ostomies.


3. Understand How Your Stoma Changes

After an ostomy, your stoma will undergo a period of change as the swelling subsides and it settles into your body. This usually means that it will shrink and may change color or shape. You’ll want to keep an eye on these changes, but it's pretty standard for about 12 weeks following your surgery. If you notice your stoma getting larger, it’s essential to contact your doctor, as it should be shrinking.


4. Find Healthy Ways to Cope with Emotional Challenges of an Ostomy

Living with an ostomy can bring many emotional challenges, including anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem. Feeling overwhelmed and uncertain about managing these challenges is natural, but many resources are available to help individuals cope. You may start feeling better as you focus on caring for your physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. Eating a healthy diet, regular exercise, and enough rest can help individuals feel more energized and less stressed. Relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, or yoga can help individuals manage stress and anxiety.


5. Learn How to Regain Your Confidence

Another important aspect of coping with emotional challenges is finding ways to regain confidence. This can be achieved by finding ways to minimize the appearance of your ostomy bag, taking measures to ensure that you don’t experience ostomy odor, and surrounding yourself with loved ones who will encourage you to stay positive.

Engaging in hobbies, spending time with friends or family, and setting goals for the future can all help you maintain a sense of purpose and hope, which plays a crucial role in self-confidence.


6. Join an Ostomy Support Group

Support groups are another valuable resource after you’ve undergone ostomy surgery. These groups provide a sense of community, understanding, practical advice, and emotional support. Ostomy support groups provide a safe space to share your experiences and feelings with others who understand what you’re going through. This can be especially helpful if you feel isolated or alone.

Support groups can provide practical advice and tips on managing ostomy-related challenges, such as skin irritation, leakage, or odor. They can also help you overcome any stigma or embarrassment associated with having an ostomy.

To find a meeting, look at the list of support groups affiliated with The United Ostomy Associations of America (UOAA). UOAA is a national, 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that supports, empowers, and advocates for people who have had or will have ostomy or continent diversion surgery. In addition to providing local support options, they offer various resources for new and existing ostomates.


7. Learn the Truth About Physical Limitations

The initial physical limitations can be a significant challenge for new ostomates, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do everything you once loved. You just have to be a little more careful when doing it. For example, heavy lifting or strenuous activity can cause a hernia or other complications for individuals with an ostomy, but these risks can be minimized with proper form and care. Just make sure to take breaks during exercise and always listen to your body.


8. Read Up on Ostomy Myths

Myths and misconceptions surrounding ostomies can also be a challenge for new ostomates. They can lead to feelings of shame, embarrassment, and social isolation. However, many of these myths are just that. . . myths. That’s why educating yourself and others about ostomies is crucial to dispel these misconceptions.


9. Focus on Diet and Nutrition

Diet and nutrition are also important considerations for new ostomates. Depending on the type of ostomy surgery, some foods may be more difficult to digest or cause blockages in the digestive system. Although these may change as your body gets used to your ostomy, it’s still important to create a diet and nutrition plan that works for you during your postoperative period.


10. Get Enough Exercise and Physical Activity

Exercise and physical activity are important for maintaining good health and well-being, but they may need to be adapted after your ostomy. For one, you’ll want to wait until you’re cleared by your doctor before resuming any physical exercise. You may also need to avoid weightlifting or high-impact sports until you’re healed and better understand how to care for your ostomy.


11. Master Changing Your Pouch

Changing your pouch at home is comfortable, but if you want to resume your everyday habits, you’ll need to learn how to change your pouch in difficult situations. This will take practice, but the more you do it, the better your system will become. If you have any questions or concerns about the process, don’t hesitate to contact your doctor or ostomy nurse.


12. Properly Care for Your Peristomal Skin

Another vital aspect of ostomy care is caring for your peristomal skin. This is the skin that surrounds your stoma, and it can become irritated or inflamed without the proper care. Therefore, keep the area clean, dry, and protected with appropriate skin barriers and moisturizers. Regularly inspecting the skin around the stoma and seeking medical attention for any signs of infection or other issues is also essential.


13. Understand Some Common Issues and How to Handle Them

Finally, you may experience common issues like leaks, blockages, or skin irritation. Knowing how to handle these issues can help prevent discomfort and prevent complications. For example, if you experience a leak, it is important to clean the area and replace the pouch. For blockages, adjusting your diet or using specific products may help. In persistent or severe issues, always seek guidance from your doctor or ostomy nurse.

To get the most out of your ostomy, always opt for high-quality, medical-grade ostomy supplies. At Byram Healthcare, we’re committed to helping improve the lives of people living with an ostomy and offer a wide range of ostomy supplies, bags, and support systems.