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A Comprehensive Guide To Living With An Ileostomy

Ileostomy: A Comprehensive Guide To Living With An Ileostomy

An ileostomy involves surgically diverting the small intestine through an opening in the abdominal wall, creating a stoma as an alternative route for waste elimination. Living with it brings significant changes and challenges that require understanding and adaptation. This comprehensive guide aims to provide individuals with an ileostomy a detailed understanding of its impact on their daily lives and equip them with practical information to effectively manage their condition.

Understanding Ileostomy

Ileostomy is a surgical procedure that involves diverting the small intestine through an opening in the abdominal wall, creating a stoma. After this surgery, waste is collected in a pouch. The frequency and consistency of the waste can differ depending on the person, underlining condition and chosen surgery method.

Understanding the surgical procedure and following care is crucial for individuals living with this condition. This knowledge serves as a foundation for effectively managing and adapting to life with an ileostomy.

When is an Ileostomy Performed?

People may undergo ileostomy surgery for various reasons, including: 

  • inflammatory bowel disease (like Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis), 
  • colorectal cancer, 
  • familial adenomatous polyposis, 
  • trauma, or 
  • other conditions that affect the function or integrity of the intestines. 

The surgery is performed when the normal route of waste elimination is impaired or needs to be bypassed for medical reasons.

Types of Ileostomy

There are two main types of ileostomies: 

  • In an end ileostomy, the surgeon brings the end of the small intestine through the abdominal wall to create the stoma. With an end ileostomy, waste is eliminated solely through the stoma. The stool is liquid or semi-liquid in consistency as it bypasses the large intestine, where water absorption occurs. This may result in more frequent bowel movements and a higher likelihood of dehydration if fluid intake is not adequately managed.
  • In a loop ileostomy, a loop of the small intestine is brought through the abdominal wall, with both the inflow and outflow of waste passing through the stoma. This allows waste to flow through the stoma, but a portion of the intestine remains intact for normal bowel function. This means that individuals may experience more typical bowel movements, including formed stool, as the waste partially traverses the large intestine.

The choice between end ileostomy and loop ileostomy depends on various factors, including the underlying medical condition, the need for temporary or permanent diversion, and the surgeon’s recommendation. Both types have unique considerations and implications for daily life with an ileostomy.

Managing Ileostomy Care

Proper care of the ileostomy is essential for maintaining comfort, preventing complications, and ensuring a healthy stoma. Here are important considerations for managing ileostomy care:

  • Daily Care Routine

Establishing a regular care routine is crucial for maintaining stoma health. This includes gently cleaning the stoma and the surrounding skin with mild soap and water, or a recommended stoma cleanser. Patting the area dry is critical to prevent irritation. Avoid using harsh chemicals or wipes that may cause skin irritation.

  • Applying a Pouching System

It is essential to choose the right type and size of pouching system that suits your stoma and body shape. The skin barrier should fit securely around the stoma, creating a seal to prevent leakage. Regularly changing the pouching system based on individual needs and instructions from healthcare professionals is necessary to maintain hygiene and prevent skin irritation.

  • Choosing the Right Products

There are various types of pouching systems and accessories available. Consulting with an ostomy nurse or healthcare professional can help in selecting the most suitable products for individual needs and preferences. Factors to consider include stoma size, body contours, skin sensitivity, and the desired level of convenience and discretion.

  • Dealing with Challenges

Managing challenges such as leakage, skin irritation, or discomfort is crucial for maintaining stoma health and overall well-being. Troubleshooting tips for common issues include ensuring proper pouching system application or using additional accessories like barrier rings and strips for added security. Seeking guidance from healthcare professionals is important if challenges persist or worsen.

Regular follow-up appointments with healthcare providers, particularly with an ostomy nurse, are recommended to assess stoma health, address concerns, and receive guidance on managing ileostomy care effectively.

  • Remember, adapting to ileostomy care takes time and patience. However, with proper care and attention, individuals can successfully adapt to the routine of caring for their ileostomy and maintain a good quality of life.

Adapting to Life with an Ileostomy

Living with an ileostomy can have a significant emotional and psychological impact on individuals. Adapting to this new way of life requires understanding, support, and self-acceptance.

  • Emotional and Psychological Impact 

Receiving an ileostomy can bring about a range of emotions, including fear, grief, and a sense of loss. It is normal to feel overwhelmed and anxious about the changes to one’s body and lifestyle. Additionally, individuals may struggle with body image concerns and self-esteem issues. If you live in an area where it is legally available, cannabis products can be a good option to manage both psychological and physical symptoms. Alternatively, a medical professional might prescribe medical cannabis if it is not legal in your area. 

  • Coping Strategies and Support Resources

To navigate the emotional challenges associated with an ileostomy, it is crucial to develop effective coping strategies. Engaging in open and honest communication with healthcare professionals, friends, and family can provide emotional support. Seeking out support groups, counseling, or therapy can also be helpful in processing emotions, addressing body image concerns, and finding solace in shared experiences with others living with an ileostomy. 

  • Importance of Self-Acceptance and Body Image

Accepting and embracing the changes to one’s body is a vital part of adapting to life with an ileostomy. It is essential to recognize that having an ileostomy does not define one’s worth or limit their ability to lead a fulfilling life. Building self-acceptance and developing a positive body image can be achieved through self-care practices, engaging in activities that promote self-confidence, and surrounding oneself with supportive and understanding individuals.

By acknowledging the emotional impact of an ileostomy and proactively addressing the associated challenges, individuals can work towards emotional well-being and a positive mindset. 


Living with an ileostomy requires understanding, adaptation, and proactive care. This comprehensive guide has covered various aspects of life with an ileostomy, providing valuable insights and practical information. By understanding the surgical options, managing ileostomy care, and addressing the emotional and psychological impact, individuals can lead fulfilling lives while effectively managing their condition.

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