What is colostomy irrigation?

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Colostomy irrigation

Colostomy irrigation is a procedure that gives people with a colostomy in the lower part of the colon (the descending colon or the sigmoid colon) more control over the elimination of waste. People with a colostomy in the lower part of the colon usually have more formed stool, so they may be able to control when stool leaves the body. Irrigation stimulates the intestine to function at a regular time and is generally done at the same time every day or every other day.

In this procedure, an irrigation cone and tube are connected to the stoma (the end of the exposed intestine), and irrigation fluid is put in to cause the colon to contract and empty.

People who use irrigation may use a small pouch or cap over the stoma and may not need a colostomy bag. Irrigation requires a health professional's approval and guidance.

How to irrigate your colostomy

To irrigate a colostomy, you'll need to have the right equipment and supplies ready, including:

  • Lubricant.
  • An irrigation set. This includes a container for water, tubing with a cone end (one end of the tubing attaches to the container and the cone end is inserted into the stoma), and a clamp.
  • An irrigating sleeve and belt. The sleeve is a long, clear plastic bag, open at the top and bottom. It snaps onto the barrier.
  • Toilet tissue.
  • A toilet to dispose of waste.

A nurse or doctor will show you how to irrigate your colostomy. Here are the basic steps.

  1. Get ready to irrigate.
    Place 16 fl oz (473.2 mL) to 32 fl oz (946.4 mL) of lukewarm water in the container.

    The exact amount depends on the person. Your nurse or doctor will help you determine the amount you need.

    Use lukewarm water because cold water can cause cramping.

    Hang the container at about shoulder height.

    This height will be 18 in. (45.7 cm) to 24 in. (61 cm) above your stoma.

    You will need a hook or other device to do this.

    Find a comfortable position.

    This may be a chair in front of the toilet or on the toilet.

  2. Prepare the equipment.
    Remove your colostomy pouch from the barrier.
    Snap the irrigation sleeve to the barrier.
    Attach the sleeve belt for security.
    Place the end of the sleeve in the toilet, bedpan, or other disposal unit.
    Unclamp the tubing to let some of the irrigation solution flow through the tubing and out the cone.

    This removes air from the tubing.

    Reclamp the tube.
    Lubricate the irrigating cone.
    Gently insert the cone into the stoma through the upper opening in the sleeve.

    Press the cone firmly but gently. Do not force the cone into the stoma or insert it more than 3 in. (7.6 cm) into the stoma.

  3. Irrigate.
    Unclamp the tube.
    Allow the irrigation solution to flow into the stoma slowly for 5 to 10 minutes.

    If cramping occurs, stop the flow for a few seconds but leave the cone in place.

    When the desired amount of solution flows in, or when you feel full, clamp the tubing.
    Remove the irrigation cone from your stoma.

    Waste will come out of the stoma and empty through the sleeve into the toilet or disposal unit.

    After the initial flow of waste slows down (10 to 15 minutes), you may clamp the sleeve shut at the bottom and move around.

    Many people use this time for shaving and other grooming.

    When the waste return is completed, unsnap the sleeve and put on your usual pouch or covering.

    It takes 30 to 45 minutes for all the waste to empty.

    Clean all supplies and store for reuse.

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