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11 Things to Know About Ostomy Bags That You're Too Afraid to Ask

Some medical treatments seem more disruptive to a normal life than others, and how one handles them reveals a lot about the person. Cancer patients may wear colorful scarves during treatment. Post eye surgery, a man may rock an eye-patch with a cover that match his ties. People adapt and learn how to take their difficulties in stride, always attempting to better themselves and look to the future.

One of these awkward and disruptive treatments is wearing an ostomy bag after surgery. Whether it's a temporary or permanent ostomy, people might think they can interfere with normal activities.

Here are 11 things patients, family, and friends should know about ostomy bags.

1. Life will be pretty much normal after recovery

Elderly family couple talking and drinking tea ih the cafe on the street

After you have recovered from your surgery, life will return mostly to normal. You'll be able to go to work, be with your family, eat and drink, and indulge in your favorite activities pretty much the same as before.

In fact, you may be able to enjoy things even more, since you will not have the pain and other discomforts you had before the surgery.

2. Your diet will probably not have to change much

In general, you will not need to change your diet very much. Most foods do not pose complications for your ostomy and your bag. Obviously, if your physician advises against certain foods, you should follow his advice.

Some foods need to be limited, however, and many of them are high-fiber foods. Raw vegetables, fruit skins, corn (and popcorn), nuts and seeds are prominent on the list of foods to keep limited. Some foods are helpful, including yogurt, sticky white rice, and bananas.

3. There's no shame in the bag

woman hiking in the Pyrenees mountains

While you don't need to get a t-shirt celebrating it, don't be shy about telling people you're close to or who might need to know. Family and friends need to know, especially to understand any dietary adjustments you might have. Employers and colleagues may also need to know because of the occasional urgent need to empty the bag.

If you are an active outdoorsy person, hiding your bag during the summer can become slightly more difficult, but not impossible. While it's possible to buy clothing made with ostomy bags in mind, many wear the ordinary wardrobe from before surgery.

4. Have a sense of humor

Maintaining a sense of humor is important when dealing with any issue, health or otherwise. Allowing your bag to be a source of humor will keep your spirits up. Endless options for bag covers are available in fun and elegant prints.

5. Your clothes will fit

While many items of clothing adapted to carry or hide ostomy bags are available, most normal clothing will fit. Be careful of belts and tight clothing, especially if your ostomy is on your waist. Most people, however, will not need to complete a full overhaul of their wardrobes.

6. You will still have a sex life

Ostomates can have fulfilling sex lives after surgery. The biggest challenge is getting through your concerns, and this process requires open communication.

If you plan to date after surgery, you will need to come up with a strategy to let potential partners know about your ostomy bag.

7. The ostomy will not affect your career prospects

brunette girl checks her mail on small portable laptop

If you are a young ostomate, you may be concerned you will be unable to pursue your interests.

Don't worry. You can have a full career. You can even travel, work, and live abroad, even in developing countries. Making sure you know how to care for yourself is, of course, key.

8. Showering and bathing with the bag are not difficult

You may keep the bag on, or take it off to make sure the stoma is clean. Soap and water will not pose a problem, although you will probably want to avoid scented soaps. Choose a time when bowel activity is low.

9. Emptying the bag is easy

Expect to take 4-6 trips to the bathroom daily for bag-emptying. You may find it easier to use the handicapped stall in a public restroom because it gives you more space for navigating clothing and the bag. While there's no one way to empty the bag, most will find it easier to do so sitting down.

10. The appliance should be changed often

You should expect to change the ostomy supplies every 3-6 days, although brands may vary. The skin may be damaged either by too frequent or too seldom a change.

11. Be aware of the danger signs of problems

Most of the time, ostomates will have few problems with their ostomy. You should be aware, however, of some signs that there is a problem.

Severe cramps over several hours, bleeding at the stoma, skin irritation, watery discharge lasting more than five or six hours, and no output for a similar time (especially with cramps) are all signs you should contact an ostomy nurse or your doctor.

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