Colostomy Surgery Overview

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.

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

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 12/07/2016.


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