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What is a colostomy?

large intestines illustration

A colostomy is a surgery in which the colon (large intestine) is re-routed and attached to an opening in the abdomen and skin called a stoma. The colon, or large intestine, forms and eliminates stool through the rectum. After a colostomy, stool drains into a colostomy bag attached around the stoma instead of through the rectum. You may need a colostomy if your colon is diseased or injured and cannot form and eliminate stool normally.

Many colostomies are temporary and allow a diseased or injured colon to rest. A temporary colostomy is reversed when the colon has healed enough to function normally. Some colostomies are permanent. Your surgeon will decide which type of colostomy is best for you based on your condition.

A colostomy is a common but major surgery with serious risks and potential complications. You may have less invasive treatment options. Consider getting a second opinion before having a colostomy. 

Types of colostomy

The most common types of colostomy surgeries are:

  • Descending colostomy places the stoma in the lower-left abdomen.

  • Sigmoid colostomy places the stoma in the lower-left abdomen, a little lower than where it is for a descending colostomy.

  • Transverse colostomy places the stoma in the upper-middle or upper-right abdomen.

Other surgical procedures that may be performed

Your doctor may perform other procedures to treat certain conditions. These include:

  • Bowel obstruction repair is the surgical removal of a blockage in the colon. A bowel obstruction is a blockage that prevents passage of intestinal contents.

  • Colectomy (also called a bowel resection) is the removal of part or the entire colon.

Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Sep 9, 2016

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