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What Is a Colostomy Bag?

A colostomy bag is a removable and disposable bag used to collect waste from the human body.
A stoma is an opening surgically created in the body that leads from the inner abdomen to the outside of the body and deposits waste into the colostomy bag.
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  • Written By: N. Madison
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 18 October 2014
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Typically both removable and disposable, a colostomy bag is used to collect and dispose of waste from the human body. It is attached to a stoma, which is an opening created when a person has a surgery to send waste out of the body through the abdomen instead of through the rectum. The stoma leads from the inner abdomen to the outside of the body and deposits waste into the colostomy bag. A person who has such a bag can then empty the bag of waste and attach a clean bag once more.

An individual who wears a colostomy bag does so after having a colostomy. During a colostomy surgery, a surgeon makes an incision in the large intestine, also called the colon, and diverts the intestine through the abdomen. This allows waste to leave the body through the hole in the abdomen instead of the anus.

There are many conditions that may result in the need for a colostomy. Among these conditions are necrotizing enterocolitis, which is a type of inflammatory bowel disease, deformation of the anal opening, and nerve conditions that keep the bowel from functioning as it should. Sometimes colostomy surgery is done when a patient has an infection or injury and the colon needs time to heal. For example, a person might need a colostomy after an injury to the colon because of a gunshot or stabbing. Often, a colostomy is a life-saving surgery; without it, some patients would die.

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In many cases, a colostomy bag is only a temporary measure. After a patient heals, he may return to his surgeon to have his colostomy reversed and go back to the normal way of moving fecal matter out of his body. In other cases, however, a person may need a permanent colostomy, wearing a colostomy bag for the rest of his life. This may occur, for example, when muscles important to controlling the bowels are removed during cancer surgery. Without these muscles in good working order, a person cannot control when fecal matter leaves his body, and a colostomy is necessary.

Having to use a colostomy bag represents a major adjustment for most people. An individual with such a bag has to carefully monitor the medications he takes and the foods he eats in order to avoid constipation, diarrhea, and abnormal amounts of gas. Many colostomy bags are designed to lie flat and remain inconspicuous under the patient’s clothing, however, allowing him to go about his daily business without embarrassment. Additionally, people with these bags can often continue their work and sex lives with only minor adjustments.

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