What is a colostomy?

A colostomy is a surgery where an opening is made from the colon out through the abdomen allowing stools to pass out through the abdomen instead of passing through the bowels and rectum.
A colostomy is a surgery where an opening is made from the colon out through the abdomen allowing stools to pass out through the abdomen instead of passing through the bowels and rectum.

Your colon plays an important role in supporting your health. It processes food, removes waste, and may even support your immune system. So when something goes wrong in your colon, it can be a problem. 

Severe injuries, infections, and chronic health problems can sometimes require giving the colon time to heal. At other times, the bowel below the colon may need to be removed. In either case, physicians often require patients to undergo a colostomy.

A colostomy is a surgery in which an opening is made from the colon out through the abdomen. This hole is known as a stoma. The stoma allows stools to pass out through the abdomen instead of passing through the bowels and rectum. As a result, the patient wears a colostomy bag to protect their stoma and collect stool

Needing a colostomy is rare, but there are a number of conditions that may require temporary or permanent colostomies. Recognizing the signs and symptoms of problems that may lead to colostomies can help you take care of your body in advance. 

Signs and symptoms of colostomy causes

Since there are many reasons for needing a colostomy bag, there is no one set of symptoms that may lead to a colostomy. However, many causes of colostomies involve similar symptoms, because they all involve problems with the intestines, colon, and bowels. The potential warning signs of serious bowel problems include:

Bloody stools

If something is seriously wrong in your colon and bowels, you may see blood in your stool. Whenever you see blood in your stool, you should immediately reach out to a medical professional. 

Serious stomach pain

Another common symptom of problems that may lead to a colostomy is serious lower abdominal pain. Cramping, bloating, and stabbing pain in the abdomen are all common symptoms of serious intestinal problems. 

Chronic diarrhea

Certain health problems that may lead to a colostomy include chronic, frequent diarrhea. This is usually linked to an infection or other problem in the colon and bowels that prevents your body from fully processing waste. 

Chronic constipation

On the other hand, certain problems with the lower bowels can lead to chronic, serious constipation. The inability to pass stool for more than a few days at a time can be a sign of a significant blockage in the intestine that may require a colostomy.

In cases of severe bowel and colon problems, symptoms might include:

If you notice any of these signs, you should seek medical care right away.

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Types of colostomy

There are two general types of colostomies: temporary and permanent. Temporary colostomies are generally caused by acute problems that can be resolved with enough healing time. Temporary colostomies may be in places anywhere from weeks to years, depending on the problem and how your body heals.

Permanent colostomies are more rare, and are generally only used as a last resort. A permanent colostomy may be recommended after a surgery to remove part of the bowels or in the case of birth defects of the intestines or anus. 

Causes of colostomies

There are several causes of colostomies. These problems can be acute health issues, or they may be chronic, lifelong problems. These causes include:

Acute infections

Illnesses like diverticulitis, an infection of small pouches in the wall of the colon, can require a colostomy in order to heal. Not every case of diverticulitis requires a colostomy, but if diet and antibiotics don’t help, a temporary colostomy may be necessary.

Cancer

Colon cancer can cause serious blockages of the colon. It can also necessitate the removal of parts of the colon. Both of these problems can lead to a temporary or permanent colostomy.

Birth defects

In rare cases, a child may be born without an anal opening, a problem known as “imperforate anus.” This can require doctors to place a colostomy bag along with surgery in order to create the child’s anal opening.

Injuries

Serious injuries to the lower abdomen can injure the colon, bowels, and rectum. In some cases, these injuries can heal, while others may be permanent. Either way, a colostomy may be ordered to allow the organs to heal.

Diagnosing causes of colostomies

A colostomy is only performed if absolutely necessary. Your doctor will likely try several other treatments for your problem before suggesting a colostomy bag. Depending on your symptoms, they may have you change your diet, get tested for cancer, or take antibiotics first. These tests can help your doctor decide if and what kind of colostomy is needed.

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Medically Reviewed on 12/15/2020
References
American Cancer Society: "Types of Colostomies and Pouching Systems."

John Hopkins Medicine: "Colon Cancer Symptoms."

John Hopkins Medicine: "Colostomy."

John Hopkins Medicine: "The Gut: Where Bacteria and Immune System Meet."

Michigan Medicine: "Diverticulosis."

National Health Service: "Colostomy."

National Institutes of Health: "Ileus and Bowel Obstruction."