Living With a Colostomy Bag: Three Common Questions

Melissa Hiscock, RN, BSN, CWOCN

As a certified Wound, Ostomy, and Continence Nurse at Roswell Park, I offer care and support to patients who are about to receive a colostomy bag. Some patients are understandably nervous about the impending change to their lifestyle. As a result, patients typically have many questions including:

1. Can I take the bag into water?

Yes, the bag is completely waterproof. Whether you prefer baths or showers, a colostomy bag should not change your bathing routine. Patients are even allowed to go swimming. Some patients may feel self-conscious about displaying their bag at a pool or beach. One-piece bathing suits give women an easy way to cover up, however men also have options. High-rise shorts may help some men feel at ease. A garment that wraps around the body, similar to a cummerbund, is also available. Additionally, if you played sports prior to surgery, you’ll likely be able to return to that lifestyle following an appropriate recovery period. We believe that your life shouldn’t have to change too much.

2. Will my dietary needs change?

The main thing to remember after undergoing any type of gastrointestinal surgery is to chew your food thoroughly and drink plenty of fluids. Patients who have colostomy surgery are at higher risk for food blockage, so dietitians usually recommend staying away from high-roughage foods, or foods that are difficult to digest. After a few weeks, you can slowly return to your regular diet. Remember to take everything in moderation.

3. Will there be an odor?

Some patients, perhaps remembering colostomy bags once worn by older relatives, wonder how they can ease their mind about what they believe will be an inevitable odor. Today’s bags are not only odor-proof, but also form fitting for maximum protection. We observe how our patients’ bodies contort when standing, sitting, and bending over, watching for the best possible bag location in order to avoid leaks.

The first few days with a colostomy bag may be a bit bumpy as you adjust to your new normal. However, it is important to know that Roswell Park is here to support and help you.

Patients offer each other guidance and inspiration at our monthly Ostomy Support Group. We have a loyal group of attendees, many of whom are willing to give newer patients a phone call or take them out for lunch. Sometimes our patients lead the sessions themselves. The group’s goal is to help patients lead the life they had prior to surgery.

You can also call 716-845-1301 for more information about the support group or with any questions.