People with colostomies may choose colostomy irrigation to regulate bowel movements and cleanse the bowel. The process involves flushing the colon daily with water through a stoma (surgical opening) in the abdomen. You don’t need to wear a colostomy bag. People with inflammatory bowel disease or colon cancer may need a colostomy and irrigation.
A colostomy is a surgical procedure that connects part of the large intestine (colon) to a surgical opening in the abdominal wall (stoma). As part of the digestive system, the large intestine helps move poop (stool) out of the body.
When you have a colostomy, stool exits the body through the stoma instead of the rectum. A bag that attaches to the stoma (skin) collects the stool. You empty this bag several times during the day.
Some people need colostomies for a short time while the colon or rectum heals. A surgeon then reattaches the ends of the intestine and closes the stoma. Other people need permanent colostomies.
Colostomy irrigation is a way to remove stool without wearing a colostomy bag all the time. You use the stoma to wash out the colon with water (like an enema). You perform this procedure at the same time every day, or every other day, depending on your needs.
People with certain digestive tract disorders that affect the large intestine (colon and rectum) may need a colostomy. While there are several conditions that need this, the more common ones include:
Irrigation works best when stool is firmer. For this reason, irrigation is only an option if you have one of these colostomy types:
You need special medical supplies to perform colostomy irrigations. You can get these supplies from your healthcare provider, pharmacy or medical supply store. You need:
Your healthcare provider will show you how to perform colostomy irrigation. Here’s what you should know:
You may develop skin irritation around the site of the stoma. You should call your healthcare provider if you notice signs of infection, such as burning, itching or waterish discharge. It’s normal to have a small amount of blood at the stoma.
A colostomy may make you more prone to constipation or diarrhea. It’s important to get enough fiber in your diet and drink plenty of water to prevent these problems. Some people experience a small amount of stool leakage between irrigations.
Having a colostomy may affect how you feel about yourself and your body image. It’s not always easy to control things like passing gas and odors. Talk to your healthcare provider if you start to feel anxious or depressed.
If not having a bag is important to you, colostomy irrigation can be an effective way to remove stool from the body.
You should call your provider if you experience:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Adjusting to life with a colostomy can be challenging. For some people, a colostomy is temporary. Others will always need one. Your body just needs to do this normal process in a slightly different way. Over time and with practice, irrigation becomes easier. Your healthcare provider can help you adjust to this new way of using the bathroom. Whether you choose to irrigate or wear a pouch, a colostomy shouldn’t keep you from doing the things you love.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 05/11/2021.
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