What Is Ostomy Irrigation?

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  • Written By: T. Broderick
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 05 May 2019
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Ostomy irrigation is a process of relieving one's bowels after having a colostomy. A colostomy is a surgical procedure to create an artificial opening in the abdomen to eliminate solid waste. Though having this system and using a colostomy bag naturally eliminates waste, ostomy irrigation allows one to choose when elimination occurs. A patient requires training before a physician allows him or her to perform the procedure at home.

Medical conditions such as certain types of cancer make it impossible for patients to normally eliminate solid waste. A colostomy creates a stoma, a healthy piece of large intestine protruding from the abdomen. Waste is naturally eliminated through this opening into a plastic bag held against the body by an adhesive. Though many patients allow nature to run its course and empty their colostomy bags when needed, others use ostomy irrigation to have more control over when elimination occurs.

Ostomy irrigation requires that a patient have good overall health, as the procedure requires visual acuity and manual dexterity. Also, a patient must be able to perform the irrigation at the same time each day. An erratic work schedule, for example, can make regular irrigation impossible. After a patient is evaluated on these criteria, a nurse teaches the procedure to the patient.


An ostomy irrigation requires some specialized equipment. An irrigation bag hung over the head provides the fluid necessary to irrigate the colon while a length of plastic tubing dispenses the fluid into the colon. The tube does not directly enter the body, but is attached to a plastic cone that one inserts into the stoma. During elimination, a plastic sleeve channels the waste into the toilet.

After everything is in place, the patient releases a clip that allows warm water from the irrigation bag to enter the colon. Roughly 1,000 cubic centimeters are required for an adult. Mild cramping is a common side effect; patients are advised to temporally stop the flow of water until the feeling passes. If a patient is dehydrated, the colon may simply absorb the water, leaving nothing to expel. If this should occur, drinking a glass of water will remedy the situation.

Waste elimination should occur shortly after all the water has entered the body. The waste runs through the sleeve and into the toilet. During the first few weeks when a patient performs ostomy irrigation, full elimination can take anywhere from 30 minutes to a full hour. After this adjustment period, the required time for elimination shortens significantly.



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