Irrigation is a system of bowel management for a colostomy in which you ‘wash’ the bowel to encourage a bowel movement. Over time your bowel will adopt this regular habit, and you should not produce waste in between irrigation sessions.
Some people have been known to go up to 72 hours without output after regular irrigation. The norm is between 24 and 48 hours. This can leave those with a colostomy feeling freer and more in control of their stoma. You may also choose this option to allow for a smaller colostomy bag or a cap instead of a standard bag.
Who can irrigate?
To qualify for irrigation you need:
- To have an end colostomy that is situated in the lower part of your colon and produce semi-solid to solid bowel movements
- Good eyesight and dexterity is an advantage as it can be a fiddly process
- Time and patience in order to perform the procedure
- Permission from your surgeon orstoma nurse
Irrigation isn’t suitable for all. There are some reasons or medical conditions that prevent you from being able to irrigate including those with a large hernia, undergoing certain treatments such a chemotherapy, those with active bowel disease such as Crohn’s or diverticulitis and those who suffer from heart or renal disease – particularly if you are undergoing dialysis as this could cause fluid overload.
In order to start irrigation you will need to speak to your stoma nurse or surgeon to find out if this is a suitable method of bowel management for you.
You can usually start irrigation once you have healed from your surgery, you have mentally adjusted to your stoma and you don’t require any further treatment such as chemotherapy or biologic therapy. Around 2-3 months past surgery is probably the earliest you can start.
Your stoma nurse will arrange an appointment for you to either learn irrigation in a clinic, or come out to your home and teach you the method. It is important that you perform this method correctly, which is why you need a specially trained nurse to teach you. The sensation of the water filling the bowel can make some people feel nauseous to begin with or experience stomach cramps. Your nurse is there to check that you are comfortable and feel well through the process.
Benefits of irrigation
Irrigation can help you to feel more in control of your stoma and more confident.
- Allows you to control when your stoma has output
- Irrigate at a time convenient for you and remain continent between irrigations
- Allows you to wear a smaller cap or bag over stoma which can help with body confidence
- Can help reduce common problems associated with bag leakage such as ‘pancaking’
Points to consider
- Irrigation can be a time-consuming process and takes around 30 – 60 minutes to perform
- You can still experience tummy upsets and diarrhoea even after irrigating so it’s worth carrying spare supplies in the event that this happens
- To reap the real benefits of irrigation, you need to be performing it at a regular time and at regular intervals. A change in routine can lead to breakthrough output