Colostomy surgery overview

What is colostomy irrigation?

A colostomy is an opening in the colon that is brought to the outside of the abdomen so that waste empties through that hole into a bag, instead of going out the rectum and anus. Colostomy irrigation is a way to regulate bowel movements by flushing and emptying the colon at a scheduled time. Usually, a bag won't need to be worn between irrigations.

The process involves instilling water into the colon through the colostomy, or stoma, which stimulates the colon to empty. By repeating this process regularly – once a day or once every second day – the colon can be trained to empty with minimal spillage of stool in between irrigations. Colostomy irrigation also can help avoid constipation.

Colostomy irrigation is a personal decision. If you are a candidate, your doctor or a nurse who is specially trained to help people with colostomies will discuss this option with you.What is a colostomy?

The colon, rectum and anus are the last sections of the body's digestive system. Although they are an important part of the system, they have little to do with digesting food or absorbing nutrients. In fact, the large intestine can be thought of as the body's trash compactor. As "leftover" liquid flows through the colon, it becomes solid waste (feces). The waste material passes through the colon, then moves onward to the rectum. From there, it is eliminated from the body through the anus.

When the colon, rectum or anus is unable to function normally because of disease or injury, or when a part of this bowel is cut out and reconnected and needs to heal, the body must have another way to eliminate the waste. By bringing the large intestine through a hole in the abdominal wall, gas and feces empty into a bag worn on the outside of the abdomen. This is called a colostomy, or stoma, and it provides a new path for waste material to leave the body. Colostomies can be permanent or temporary.

What is colostomy irrigation?

A colostomy is an opening in the colon that is brought to the outside of the abdomen so that waste empties through that hole into a bag, instead of going out the rectum and anus.

Colostomy irrigation is a way to regulate bowel movements by flushing and emptying the colon at a scheduled time. The process involves instilling water into the colon through the colostomy, or stoma, which stimulates the colon to empty. By repeating this process regularly – once a day or once every second day – the colon can be trained to empty with minimal spillage of stool in between irrigations. Colostomy irrigation also can help avoid constipation.

Colostomy irrigation is a personal decision. If you are a candidate, your doctor or a nurse who is specially trained to help people with colostomies will discuss this option with you.

Why is a colostomy created?

There are many reasons why a colostomy becomes necessary. Some of the conditions that may require a colostomy include:

  • Colon, rectal, or anal cancer
  • Traumatic injury
  • Intestinal blockage
  • Diverticulitis (an inflammation or infection of small sacs or outpouchings, called diverticula, of the inner lining of the intestine)
  • Crohn's disease (a type of inflammatory bowel disease)
  • Incontinence or constipation

Who is a candidate for colostomy irrigation?

Patients with permanent colostomies made in the descending or sigmoid portion of the colon and who had regular bowel function before having a colostomy are good candidates for irrigation. This is because their stools tend to be more formed. Colostomy irrigation may not be a successful method of regulation for persons with a history of irritable bowel or irregular bowel action. Irrigation may be cumbersome for persons with certain physical limitations, such as arthritis, visual impairment, paralysis, or palsy. Some persons find the procedure too time consuming or unpleasant. In these cases, wearing a pouch or bag and emptying that several times a day is a better method of colostomy care.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 11/07/2016.

References

  • United Ostomy Associations of America, Inc. Colostomy Fact Sheet Accessed 6/10/2020.
  • Colostomy UK. Irrigation. Accessed 6/10/2020.
  • American Cancer Society. Caring for a Colostomy. Accessed 6/10/2020.
  • Kent DJ, Arnold Long M, Bauer C. Revisiting colostomy irrigation: a viable option for persons with permanent descending and sigmoid colostomies. J Wound Ostomy Continence Nurs. 2015;42(2):162‐164.

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy