Tips to Prevent Blockages and Hernias

January 12,2023 |
Person with an ostomy jogging in the winter.

There are several different reasons someone may need to undergo an ostomy surgery. It can provide welcoming relief from troublesome symptoms caused by inflammatory bowel disease, birth defects, cancer, diverticulitis, and more. Ostomies are considered essential procedures that are meant to improve your overall quality of life. Although the initial period of adaptation can take some time, after a year or so nearly all ostomates feel liberated and are thankful for the surgery. There are several benefits of undergoing this procedure, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t carry unique challenges. After the initial operation, there are some things that you’ll need to do in order to properly care for your stoma and keep yourself healthy. For more information, here are some tips to prevent stoma blockages and parastomal hernias.


Understanding Your Stoma

First, it’s important to understand a few things about your ostomy. An ostomy is a procedure that’s done in order to divert your bodily waste away from damaged or diseased parts of your digestive tract. The three types of ostomies include a colostomy, ileostomy, and urostomy, which affects the urinary tract system instead of the digestive system. They can be either temporary or permanent, but the goal is to aid in the healthy excretion of waste from your body. Instead of passing through the rectum, colon, or bladder, waste exits through a small opening on your abdomen called a stoma. This is connected to an ostomy pouching system where waste is effortlessly collected throughout the day and night. Your doctor will discuss the exact location of your stoma, how to care for it, and what to look for in terms of color, size, and any changes.


What is a Stoma Blockage?

Normally, output flows freely from your stoma into your ostomy pouching system. Although the consistency of your stool can vary based on diet, exercise, and hydration, obstructions aren’t normal. When they do occur, this creates a stoma blockage. Blockages result in a slowed output of waste, and in severe cases it may even stop completely.

When there is still a small amount of waste that bypasses the obstruction, it’s considered a partial bowel obstruction or stoma blockage. In addition to the waste product, you may notice an accompanying mucous residue. If output stops entirely, it’s considered a complete bowel obstruction or stoma blockage. Blockages are also usually accompanied by some degree of cramping or pain, swelling of the abdomen, or even nausea and vomiting.

Many ostomates will, at some point, experience some degree of stoma blockage. This is usually caused by poorly digested food, but it can also be an indication of a serious underlying condition. Therefore, if you experience stoma blockages, make sure to see your doctor as soon as possible.


How to Prevent Stoma Blockages

Most stoma blockages are caused by poor digestion, which means there are things that you can do to help prevent them from occurring. Some of the best ways to help encourage healthy digestion and stoma output include the following:

  1. Practice Mindful Eating

    Many people have become accustomed to eating quickly or on the go. This tends to result in a lack of proper mastication (or chewing your food). When you don’t thoroughly chew your food, your digestive tract needs to work harder to accomplish the same thing. When you practice mindful eating, you take the time to think about each bite and thoroughly chew it so that it can be prepared for the digestive process. Large pieces of unchewed food can easily end up as stoma blockages, so it’s worth taking a few extra minutes to focus on your meal and reduce these types of complications.


  2. Avoid Excessively Large Meals

    Another key to preventing stoma blockages is to avoid eating super-size meals. While you absolutely shouldn’t starve yourself, some ostomates find that eating several smaller meals throughout the day helps improve digestion when compared to one or two large meals. This can also help you improve your blood sugar levels throughout the day and keep your metabolism working at peak efficiency. You can still frame meals around social settings, just try to keep portions small and see if that helps reduce stoma blockages.


  3. Keep Track of Problem Foods

    Life with an ostomy doesn’t mean you need to change your diet, but you may notice that some foods aren’t digesting as well as they used to. Your body’s digestive system has been altered and is usually much shorter than before, which gives food less time to break down as it passes from your mouth and back out of your body. Consider trying an elimination diet to identify foods that you’re struggling with and slowly start to introduce them back into your diet so your body can adapt to them. If there are certain foods that always result in a blockage, it may be best to avoid them or find an alternative option.


  4. Stay Hydrated

Finally, it’s essential to stay adequately hydrated when living with a stoma. Water is an essential element in the digestive process, as it can help improve the efficiency of your large and small intestines while binding to food to help carry it through the process. Dehydration only results in problems, so try to drink enough water so that your urine is a pale-yellow color throughout the day. This won’t necessarily increase the amount of times you need to change your ostomy pouch, but it will help reduce the risk of stoma blockages.


What is a Parastomal Hernia?

Parastomal hernias are another complication that many ostomates have to look out for. They occur when part of the intestines sticks out through the stoma opening. Although this may seem alarming, nearly 80% of ostomates will experience a parastomal hernia during the first two years following their surgery.

You’ll notice if you develop a parastomal hernia, as it will create a bulging appearance underneath the skin near the stoma. Some hernias are accompanied by a small, balloon-like pouch that’s called a peritoneal sac. If you notice either of these symptoms, it’s important to contact your doctor as they tend to require medical intervention.


How to Prevent Parastomal Hernias

Like stoma blockages, there are a few things you can do to prevent parastomal hernias. Many of these include the same preventative tips for avoiding regular hernias. Some of the best tips on how to prevent parastomal hernias include the following:

  1. Get Plenty of Exercise

    Exercising can actually help you prevent parastomal hernias, as it helps build up the strength of your abdominal muscles. When your abdominal muscles are strong, hernias have a harder time poking through. Always talk to your doctor before beginning any type of exercise regimen and consider working with a physical therapist who specializes in ostomies to prioritize your health and avoid the risk of injury.


  2. Use Proper Form When Lifting

    Whether you’re lifting a box or weights, proper form is imperative. Take the time to be intentional with every movement, especially if you’re at the gym. Doing so can actually create stronger muscles, as the mind-body connection helps you isolate certain areas. When picking up boxes, always do so with your legs and never with your back. Similarly, don’t try to push a box or heavy object along the floor using your feet, as this can also cause excessive strain on your back that may result in a hernia.


  3. Avoid Overworking Your Back

If you don’t regularly lift heavy weights, don’t try and jump into it after an ostomy surgery. Since ‘heavy’ is subjective, try to work within your limits. Don’t force yourself and never excessively strain to try and pick something up. You can improve your strength levels through exercise, but go slow and utilize progressive overload to make sure that you’re not putting too much pressure on your stoma. Doing so can quickly lead to parastomal hernias.

Stoma blockages and parastomal hernias are fairly common amongst new ostomates, but there are things you can do to take a proactive approach to your health. If you’re struggling to adapt to these new changes, or feel overwhelmed with the accompanying challenges, consider joining an ostomy support group. To do this, search 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.

Byram Healthcare also aims to be a helpful resource for ostomates. We provide ongoing updates to the ostomy community, ostomy education and support, and products that can be discreetly delivered to your door.