Emptying an ostomy bag is a skill you need to learn after operations like colostomies, ileostomies, or urostomies. After all, you (or the ostomy patient) will be using the pouch for a while. At first, the process can be challenging. But you’ll get used to it once you learn how to empty the drainable appliance properly. Read on to learn more about what to expect when changing your ostomy pouch, including how often to change it.
What is an ostomy pouch?
Before you delve into emptying the pouch, you must first understand its purpose. During an ostomy procedure, surgeons create another pathway for stool and urine. This waste will now exit through the abdomen, through an opening called a stoma. The ostomy pouch, or ostomy bag, is then connected to the stoma to make it easier for the ostomate to drain away the waste.
You can choose an ostomy system based on your personal preference. It comes in two types: one-piece and two-piece. A one-piece ostomy system is where the bag and the adhesive base plate are one, joined system. A two-piece ostomy system is one where the ostomy bag and the wafer (flange) are two separate items. With most manufacturers, you order your ostomy bag and your flanges/base plates separately.
When should you empty your pouch?
As a general rule, you should empty your ostomy pouch once it’s about ⅓ or ½ of the way full.
Failing to empty to your pouch on a regular basis can lead to a host of issues, such as:
Once your ostomy bag is nearly or completely full, the weight can cause stress on the base plate, making it prone to leakage. You might not want that to happen. It can be frustrating and embarrassing if a leak occurs in public.
- Unpleasant odors
Since the bag holds bodily waste, it may emit an unpleasant odor. This might happen, especially if the pouch leaks. And, when you don’t drain it regularly, the smell can get stronger as the waste builds up.
- Urinary tract infection and other infections
Inside the bag, your stoma is exposed to urine, which contains infection-causing bacteria. These can grow and multiply fast. With that in mind, you should empty your pouch to keep urine from flowing back to the stoma and lessen the risk of infection.
How to empty your ostomy bag
There are two types of ostomy bags: drainable and non-drainable. The latter is disposable, so once it’s full, you can simply dispose of the entire thing. For drainable ostomy pouches, here is a step-by-step process to empty your appliance:
- Prepare the area
Maintaining a sanitary environment is really important when you’re preparing to change your pouch. Be sure to wash your hands before you proceed. If you have the space, you may also want to lay out all your products, so they’re easily accessible.
2. Drain the pouch
Now is the time to empty your ostomy bag. After finding a comfortable position:
- Pull your clothes away from the pouch.
- Raise the pouch from the bottom and open the Velcro closures or release the clamp.
- Once you’ve set them aside, unroll the tail and empty the pouch directly into the toilet.
3. Clean your appliance
You don’t have to rinse the entire ostomy bag — it’s completely optional. For two-piece pouching system users, you can detach, wash, and reattach the appliance. Alternatively, you can also wipe the bag out with some tissue paper.
Sometimes, rinsing can destroy the integrity of the seal. But if you do it carefully, your pouch’s wear time won’t be affected.
4. Close your pouch
Once you’ve finished cleaning out the pouch, re-fasten the closure. If you have the clamp version:
- Hold the clamp on the curved side towards you.
- Lay the bar an inch from the tail.
- Fold the tail up.
- Close the clamp until it locks.
- Don’t forget to wash your hands with warm water afterward!
Get in touch with a healthcare professional
Since there are a lot of factors to consider after surgery, your ostomy nurse may prescribe a different method to empty your pouch. If that’s the case, it’s best to listen to them. You can also schedule an appointment with us at Better Health for more information and tips by calling 415-475-8444.