What is a stoma?

A stoma is an opening made in the abdominal wall to divert the flow of waste. Stomas are often created when surgically treating conditions such as colorectal cancer, diverticulitis, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. A stoma may be permanent or temporary.

People of all ages can have a stoma. Stomas are more common than you might think – around 1 in every 500 people have or have had a stoma. Everyone’s stoma will look a bit different, but generally they look pink and moist, a bit like the inside of your mouth.

The terms ‘stoma’ and ‘ostomy’ are used interchangeably.


A colon stoma – colostomy – describes an opening from the colon (large intestine).

If your surgeon needs to create a colostomy, she will make a cut in the (left) abdominal wall. She will then bring part of the colon through then cut and stitch it down securely.

A bag is placed over the stoma to collect waste. Most people find they need to change the bag 1–3 times daily.


An ileum stoma – ileostomy – describes an opening from the ileum, which is the lower part of the small intestine.

This is similar to a colostomy, but the opening is usually on the right and the bag usually needs to be changed more frequently (3–6 times) because the waste is more liquid.

Temporary versus permanent stomas

Many stomas are temporary, and are used to protect a join in the bowel (anastomosis). A temporary ileostomy is usually reversed after 3 months. Some types of colostomy are only reversed after 9 to 12 months. Sometimes a permanent stoma is needed, in which case it is never reversed. This is usually because the anus or rectum has to be removed completely.

How do I manage my stoma?

You’ll stay in hospital for about a week after surgery. Specialist Stoma Therapist Nurses will teach you how to use the colostomy bag and care for your skin around the stoma. You’ll also be given dietary advice to help you avoid problems like stomal blockage. The Stoma Therapists will help you with questions that you may have about the stoma. Usually they will have met you before your surgery in order to work out with you the best place to position your stoma.