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Explaining an Ostomy to Someone | Ask Laura

Laura Cox
Ostomy Lifestyle Specialist | Shield HealthCare
07/25/14  4:11 PM PST
Explaining an Ostomy

Learn more about best practices when explaining an ostomy to someone.

Q: How do you explain what an ostomy is to someone?

Andy S.

A: Explaining an ostomy and what it does is not always the easiest task. I usually assess the situation and the person or people I’m talking to before determining how I’m going to explain what an ostomy is.

If I don’t feel very comfortable with the person, if there is more than one person in the conversation, or if we are in a restaurant or other place where I feel it is inappropriate to go into detail, I leave my explanation short, simple, but still accurate. After I tell someone I have an ostomy, I usually explain by saying, “Since I don’t have a colon anymore, I need another way to get rid of waste. I do that through a surgical opening in my abdomen, called a stoma. The waste empties into an external bag.” In this explanation, I do not mention that my stoma is part of my intestine. This is my personal preference when telling people I am not comfortable going into detail with.

If I feel comfortable with the person and the situation, I will elaborate on my previous script and try to convey openness to questions. The script starts the same way, but ends a bit differently. It goes “Since I don’t have a colon anymore, I need another way to get rid of waste. Surgeons pulled a bit of my small intestine through a hole in my abdomen. Waste now exits my body through that external part of my small intestine into an external bag.” Of course, if this script does not work for you, feel free to make up your own version! I find that when telling people about my ostomy it is best for me to have an idea of what I want to say already prepared.

In one instance, I was explaining what an ostomy is to a man I had met on a group trip. I had only known him for about a week when he asked me about my ostomy. I did not elaborate very much, and expected the conversation to be over quickly. To my surprise, he was very interested. Soon I had told him all about my stoma, the surgery, my day to day life with my ostomy, and he even had me draw out a diagram of my diverting ileostomy and J Pouch so he could better understand how the surgical procedure went and how my anatomy differed from conventional anatomy. It was an extremely pleasant surprise, and really brought the two of us closer together.

The two most important goals to me when explaining what an ostomy is, are to make sure your explanation is understood, and that you are comfortable with your explanation. Explaining what an ostomy is to someone may seem frightening, but I find that approaching the situation in a way that you’re comfortable with makes you appear confident, knowledgeable, and open to discussion.

I hope you’re happy and healthy,


Here is a link to Shield HealthCare’s Video about Explaining an Ostomy.

Serving Medicare Ostomates Nationwide
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  1. Robert Payne
    Posted September 16, 2015 at 2:20 pm PST

    Could you please send me information on line of Ostomy supplies
    and prices.


    Robert Payne

  2. Posted September 18, 2015 at 9:23 am PST

    Hi Robert,

    Here is a link to our pricing. http://shop.shieldhealthcare.com/CategoryDetail.aspx?CategoryName=Ostomy

    We bill insurance instead of taking private pay.

    Thanks, Laura

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