An ostomy is a life-changing experience. Whether it is a colostomy, ileostomy, or urostomy, it may have an impact on your physical, emotional, and mental well-being. This procedure is invasive, but overall, it can improve your quality of life — that’s why recovering from ostomy surgery is important. 

An ostomy can treat small or large intestine problems such as colorectal cancer, Crohn’s disease, incontinence, ulcerative colitis, or another inflammatory bowel disease. But beyond treatment, your surgery may also lead to physical and mental changes because your body’s adjusting, and it may be stressful. Read on to learn about the effects ostomy can have on you. 

Recovering from ostomy surgery: physical changes

Your body will have to adjust to certain temporary and permanent changes. Here are some examples:

  • Stoma trauma

Your stoma may ooze blood and swell for days after the surgery. This is normal because the procedure is traumatic to the body, so your white blood cells rush to heal your surgically created opening. The swelling will slowly reduce in the first 10 days. 

You might experience minor bleeding from your stoma because many blood vessels surround your abdomen. If that happens, you can apply pressure using a cool cloth to stop the bleeding. It usually subsides in one to two days. However, if the bleeding persists, you have to consult your ostomy nurse.

  • Postoperative pain 

It is important to speak with  your pre-operative health care team and physician beforehand so that they can determine the type and amount of medication they can give you post-operatively. In addition, after surgery, the nurses and healthcare team will regularly assess your pain level. Please be honest about your pain level so that your pain can be treated appropriately. If the medication is not working and you are having a difficult time managing your pain, many hospitals have a pain care specialist team which can be consulted for further pain management. 

  • Diet

Immediately after surgery, your bowel movements will be dormant since your intestines are still adjusting, so will be placed on a fluid only diet. Once your bowels start to resume normal activity, you can progress to eating soft and small meals once cleared by your healthcare team. You can eat solid food again after a couple of days.

In the long run, your diet won’t be what it used to be. It might be different because doctors don’t recommend food that may cause stoma blockage, like popcorn and pepper, since they’re tough to digest. However, what you consume still depends on you. A trial and error method can help you distinguish the food you want to avoid. 

  • Movement

Getting back on your feet can help you recover faster and shorten your hospital stay. The healthcare team will be you up and mobilizing quite quickly after surgery to prevent complications related to immobility. Walking might be difficult at first, but it will improve your strength because it prevents chest infections and helps your bowel work as well.

It will take a while before you can engage in strenuous activities. Resuming physical activity gradually and with your doctor’s approval can help avoid damaging your stoma.  It is imperative to consult your doctor before going back to your normal routine, especially if it involves heavy lifting. 

Recovering from ostomy surgery: social and emotional changes

You might encounter some psychological issues along with the changes that come with your ostomy surgery. It is important to understand and discuss  how you feel after your surgery. And by acknowledging your mental, social, and emotional state, you can manage the challenges you may face as an ostomate. Below are some challenges you may experience:

  • Body image

Your self-perception can change because your body doesn’t function the way it did before. You may feel inferior, alienated, and angry with your body. One way to overcome this challenge is to reframe your thought to focus on something positive— perhaps how your ostomy treated your serious condition or how you’re a survivor, not a victim.

  • Self-care

Having an ostomy means learning about the different accessories and management processes that work for your pouching system. It may seem overwhelming at first. However, there are ostomy nurses that can assist and explain the process to you. One of the ways to overcome this feeling and gain confidence in using your ostomy appliance is to get involved in the process as soon as possible. 

  • Relationship fears

Sometimes, you can feel that your relationships with your friends, colleagues, and family changed because of your ostomy. Some concerns you might face are:

  • Disclosure

You don’t have to tell everyone about your ostomy if you’re not comfortable or ready. You can be selective. When you’re ready to share your ostomy story, you can prepare a brief statement to explain your surgery. 

  • Intimacy

Bringing up your ostomy to your partner can be difficult because of intimacy concerns.It can help to disclose your concerns and feelings with your partner in order to address them together. Dialogue can help your partner understand what’s going on — you can overcome challenges together. 

Once you’re both ready to engage in intimate acts, ostomy accessories can help you feel more confident because they keep your appliance secure. Waistline wraps, for example, can decrease anxiety.

4 phases of an ostomate’s psychological adaptation

After your surgery, you might go through a process similar to the five stages of grief. You may experience all stages or only some at different rates and orders. It is important to be aware of what you may go through after your surgery in order to address and help cope with the phases.

Many ostomates find that therapy is incredibly helpful during this transition phase. Remember, there’s no shame in needing help!

  1. Shock

At this stage, you might become fearful, tearful, and anxious right after the surgery. You might not also be able to process information well.

  1. Denial

If you find yourself avoiding the reality that you’ve undergone an ostomy, then you may be in the denial stage. During this stage, you minimize or deny the significance of your operation. The adaptation process may be delayed from weeks to months. 

  1. Acknowledgment

Once you’re beginning to face reality, you might feel agitated, bitter, and depressed for a temporary amount of time. At this stage, you might start to let go of customs you’re used to and transition into life with an ostomy.

  1. Adaptation

The final stage involves coping with situations and establishing new practices that concern your ostomy. Within one to two years, you can have a new sense of worth. 

Get in touch with other ostomates and professionals

You are not alone in your ostomy journey. Many support groups can help you address your feelings after surgery. There, you can find people who share similar experiences and can give tips to overcome challenges. 
Another way to understand your feelings is by talking to a healthcare professional.

At Better Health, you can consult an ostomy expert about the troubles you’re facing. Visit or call 415-475-8444 today.

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