Why a colostomy is used 

Some of the most common reasons why a colostomy is formed are explained below.

Bowel cancer

Bowel cancer is one of the most common cancers in the UK, it mainly develops inside the colon or the rectum. A widely used treatment is to surgically remove the affected part of the bowel.

If a section of the colon is removed, a temporary colostomy is often formed to allow the rest of the colon to heal. The healed colon is then rejoined and the colostomy can be reversed.

If the rectum is removed, it is likely that you will need to have a permanent colostomy. If the anus is removed you will also need to have a permanent colostomy.

Read more about treating bowel cancer.


Diverticulitis is a condition that causes small pouches to develop in the wall of the colon, which become infected and inflamed. This can cause stomach pain, high temperatures and vomiting.

It is initially treated using antibiotics but if you have repeated episodes of diverticulitis, it is usually recommended that the affected section of the colon is removed. You may need a temporary colostomy while the remaining colon heals.

Read more about treating diverticulitis.

Crohn’s disease

Crohn’s disease is a condition that causes inflammation of the digestive system.

A temporary colostomy is sometimes recommended to divert the waste from digestion away from the inflamed colon to give it a chance to heal. In a few cases, a permanent colostomy may be necessary.

Read more about treating Crohn's disease.

Bowel obstruction

Conditions such as severe constipation and bowel cancer can sometimes cause the bowel to become blocked.

A bowel obstruction can become a medical emergency because there is a risk that the bowel could split, causing infection and internal bleeding.

In some cases it may be necessary to remove some of the colon and form a temporary or permanent colostomy. If the entire colon is removed, then either a temporary or permanent ileostomy may be required.

Bowel incontinence

Bowel incontinence is a condition where a person is unable to control their bowel movements.

A colostomy can be formed as a last resort, if all other medical and surgical treatments prove unsuccessful.

Read more about treating bowel incontinence.


If a part of the colon needs to be removed following an injury, such as a knife or gunshot wound, a colostomy may need to be formed. The colostomy is usually temporary but in some cases can become permanent.

Colostomy in children

Some children have a colostomy due to a condition called Hirschsprung’s disease. This is a rare genetic disorder affecting 1 in every 5,000 children.

Children with Hirschsprung’s disease are missing some of the nerves that control the muscles in the colon, which means the colon can easily become blocked.

Surgery is sometimes necessary to prevent these blockages. During the operation, the section of the colon lacking the nerve cells is removed and a colostomy is formed so stools can leave the body. Depending on how much of the colon is removed, the colostomy may be temporary or permanent.

Page last reviewed: 03/06/2013

Next review due: 03/06/2015