After an ileostomy, stools are diverting out of an opening in your abdomen (tummy) called a stoma 

An ileostomy is where the small intestine (small bowel) is diverted through an opening in the abdomen (tummy).

The opening is known as a stoma. A special bag is placed over the stoma to collect waste products that would usually pass through the colon (large intestine) and out of the body through the rectum and anus (back passage).

Ileostomy procedures are relatively common in the UK. In England, over 9,000 such operations are carried out each year.

When is an ileostomy needed?

Ileostomies are formed to either temporarily or permanently stop digestive waste passing through the full length of the small intestine or colon.

There are a number of reasons why this may be necessary, including:

  • to allow the small intestine or colon to heal after it has been operated on (for example, if a section of bowel has been removed to treat bowel cancer)
  • to prevent inflammation of the colon in people with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis
  • to allow for complex surgery to be carried out on the anus or rectum

Read more about why ileostomy procedures are carried out.

The ileostomy procedure

Before an ileostomy is formed, you will normally see a specialist stoma nurse to discuss exactly where you'd like your stoma to be (usually somewhere on the right-hand side of the abdomen) and to talk about living with a stoma.

There are two main types of ileostomy:

  • loop ileostomy – where a loop of small intestine is pulled out through an incision in your abdomen, before being opened up and stitched to the skin to form a stoma
  • end ileostomy – where the ileum is separated from the colon and is brought out through the abdomen to form a stoma

Alternatively, it is sometimes possible for an internal pouch to be created that is connected to your anus. This is known as an ileo-anal pouch. This means that, unlike with an ileostomy, there is no stoma and stools are passed out of your back passage in a similar way to normal.

Of these techniques, end ileostomies and ileo-anal pouches are usually permanent. Loop ileostomies are usually intended to be temporary and are reversed during an operation at a later date.

Read more about how an ileostomy is formed and reversing an ileostomy.

After surgery

You may need to stay in hospital for up to two weeks after an ileostomy operation, during which time you will be taught how to look after your stoma by a specialist stoma nurse.

Recovering from the procedure can be challenging. Many people will experience both short-term physical and psychological problems, ranging from skin irritation around the stoma to feelings of anxiety and self-consciousness.

However, with practice and support from a designated stoma nurse, many people do adjust and often find that their quality of life improves after surgery, particularly if they have been living for years with a painful digestive condition, such as Crohn’s disease.

Read more about recovering from an ileostomy procedure and living with an ileostomy.


As with any surgical procedure, having an ileostomy carries a risk of complications. Some of the problems people with an ileostomy experience include:

  • an obstruction – where the output of digestive waste is blocked
  • vitamin B12 deficiency, caused by the removal of part of the intestine that absorbs vitamin B12
  • stoma problems, such as widening or narrowing of the stoma, making it difficult to attach the external bag

Read more about the risks of having an ileostomy.

Page last reviewed: 17/02/2014

Next review due: 17/02/2016


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The 3 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

Beech babe 09 said on 16 June 2013

I had a total colectomy 9 years ago followed by an ileo anal pouch 6 months later, and I have to say it was the best thing I ever did! My surgeon warned me the whole thing was not a walk in the park, and a lot of the recovery was down to me quickly accepting the bag as my new bottom. A nurse told me that every one has a bottom, mine had just been moved to the front temporarily! My life is sooooo much better than before. No drugs, no pain, no weight gain from steroids and a feeling of ' full of energy' ! I was 34 when I had my surgery, with. 2 year old to look after. My family were brilliant, my surgeon fantastic, and I can't thank everyone enough. If you are in a position of requiring surgery, then yes, think very carefully, but life is for living and this op hopefully will change you life for the better.

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runwellian said on 11 May 2013

I had an ilesotomy in 1976 after suffering years from ulcerative colitis.
I dreaded the though of living with a 'bag' but 36 years on, it changed my life and am so glad I didn't opt out, not that I had much choice!

My treat my stoma like I treated my 'bottom', something i have but doesn't dominate my life. Get the dressing right, very important, I can now change my bag in three minutes in an emergency.

Planning is the key, if you are going out for the day, change before you go!
When there is activity, empty when you pass the next toilet.
Change your dressing at regular intervals, don't wait for a 'leak' to catch you out!

Always carry a 'change', I put mine in an large envelope at the bottom of my bag or a zipper compartment in a holdall.

Hospitals do not keep supplies, so by always carrying a spare, you are one step ahead! Shame on the hospitals!

I enjoy more activities now than before I had a stoma, go camping, trained as a nurse (general and psychiatry), I love gardening, cycling etc.

I eat a very normal diet, in fact I can't think of anything I can't do, and I don't suffer the misery and embarrassment I did prior to surgery. I can shop without worrying where the nearest loo is ... life has really changed and I have never once regretted having a stoma.

Plan well, always be prepared, but don't allow the stoma to take control of your life ... live life to the full ... as the alternative could mean a quick end to what can be a great life!

Everyone in the world has a 'bottom' and none of us can manage without one! I don't give a thought to my stoma any more than I did to my 'bottom' there are far to many things in life to enjoy!

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altea said on 24 February 2013

my wife age 74 after ileostomy she gets a build up of hard mucous in her rectum which she has real problems passing,after 2 enemas in2 days @ a lot of pain 4 weeks ago it is starting again.any ideas please?

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