Ostomy 101

Ostomy 101

The diagnosis of Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis is a life-changing one. With a few short words, nothing is ever the same. Your dietary restrictions go through the roof, flare-ups can knock you out of commission for weeks at a time, and the symptoms can be painful and profoundly debilitating. There are some treatments, but no known cures. These can include medications and even surgery, of which one of the results is an ostomy.

But what is an ostomy and how does it work?

Ostomy surgery is a life-saving procedure whereby bodily waste is allowed to pass through “a surgically created stoma on the abdomen into a prosthetic known as a ‘pouch’ or ‘ostomy bag’ on the outside of the body.” There are a few different types of ostomies, including a colostomy, created using the large intestine, urostomy, using the kidneys, ileostomy, the small intestine, and the cecostomy, which uses the cecum and a tube. All of these can be used to make life a little bit easier for those living with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.  

An ostomy is, fundamentally speaking, a “surgically created opening of the bowel or the urinary tract on the abdomen.” It’s a mucosa, or mucous membrane, and completely insensible to touch due to the lack of nerve endings. So even when exposed and uncovered by an ostomy bag, the ostomy itself is not receptive to pain. They can also be made in different shapes depending on the incision, and can sometimes protrude a little bit from the initial site. They can also be either temporary or permanent fixtures of the body, as necessary.

Ultimately, an ostomy intercepts the path of waste material that passes through the intestines and the bowels in order to safely allow it to travel through to an ostomy bag, usually on the outside of the body. In the cases of Crohn’s and colitis, this is because the intestines or bowels can’t carry out their designated functions normally, causing potentially severe distress and pain.

For some, not having an ostomy but needing one can be completely debilitating to the point where it’s impossible to function, and can even result in death. Jessica Grossman, the founder of Uncover Ostomy, was 13-years-old when she got her ostomy. She’d spent two years in the hospital in agony, unable to move and bleeding excessively from her bowels. Her ostomy saved her life and gave her renewed functionality.

However, with an ostomy bag comes, unfortunately, a great deal of stigma. Many don’t understand their function, and instead only see a tasteless joke, making life potentially embarrassing and difficult for those who live with them. Grossman’s goal with Uncover Ostomy is to end that stigma and raise awareness about Crohn’s, colitis, and ostomies, while also encouraging body positivity.

Though life can be made infinitely easier with an ostomy, there may still be debilitating limitations. It’s for this reason that the Disability Tax Credit Committee and the Ostomy Canada Society worked together to create a tax credit for those living with ostomies.


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