Most colostomies are intended to be temporary, but the high risk of complications, such as leakage and infection, keep many people from having the procedure reversed.
If you need a colostomy to help you recover after a traumatic injury or as a treatment for a disease such as colorectal cancer, you might be wondering how long you will need it.
Some colostomies are required permanently, but others might only be needed temporarily after a surgical procedure or while you recover.
This article takes a look at if and when your colostomy might be reversed, what happens during reversal surgery, and potential complications.
A colostomy reversal surgery is a procedure to undo or remove the hole that was surgically made in your abdomen to handle solid waste. This hole, called a stoma, is created within your abdominal wall to provide a passageway for your colon to eliminate digestive waste.
A temporary stoma might be created to reroute the flow of solid waste from your rectum for conditions like:
Although these conditions may sometimes require a permanent colostomy, the goal in most cases is to reverse the colostomy and restore bowel function.
When colostomies are temporary, the reversal procedure will usually take place at least 3 months after your initial surgery. The procedure to reverse your colostomy is simpler than the procedure to create your stoma, but you will still need to undergo surgery, which has potential complications.
The decision on when, how, and even if a colostomy is reversed will depend on your specific need for the colostomy, and your individual health assessments.
Candidates for colostomy reversal are typically younger and healthier. If you had a colostomy to treat a traumatic wound or diverticular disease, you may also be a candidate for reversal surgery.
On the other hand, if any of the following apply to you, you may not be considered for this procedure:
- you are an older age
- you have a malignant disease like cancer
- you have cardiovascular disease
The process of reversing your colostomy begins with an assessment of your healing. Sometime around
If the initial reason for your bowel diversion has been treated and addressed, your doctor will make sure you have not developed post-operative complications like strictures or adhesions that could delay or prevent a successful reversal.
If the plan is to move forward in reversing your colostomy and restoring your natural bowel function, you will be scheduled for surgery. During the procedure, a surgeon will:
- make an incision around the stoma site
- access your abdominal tissue through the stoma site
- reattach the remaining sections of your colon to each other (anastamosis)
- close the incision site
These steps can vary based on how your original colostomy was done and any other health issues you may have.
One of the biggest risks of colostomy reversal surgery is failure.
There are various reasons why a colostomy reversal fails, but fluids leaking from the area where the two ends of your colon were rejoined (anastamosis) is a common cause.
This leakage can lead to poor wound healing, infection, or even sepsis. Research suggests that the overall risk for complications is only about 12% for stoma reversal. However, when complications do arise, they can cause serious problems in about
Most people who undergo colostomy reversal surgery will stay in the hospital for 3–10 days after the procedure. The main goal during this time is to monitor your wound healing and make sure that you are able to pass stool naturally through your reconnected colon.
It will take some time after surgery for your bowel movements to become regular, and either constipation or diarrhea is expected for some time.
Your surgical wound will take 2–3 months to heal, and your anus may be tender as you get used to natural elimination habits again.
While your body adjusts to the reversal, you may find that powders or barrier ointments may help with anal irritation and odor. You will also want to reintroduce foods that could irritate your bowel gradually during the recovery period.
Your doctor will give you specific instructions for your diet and wound care after the procedure based on the type of reversal that was done and any other health issues that need to be considered.
How successful your colostomy reversal is will depend on such factors as:
- why you had a colostomy in the first place
- what complications you may have experienced when your stoma was created
- what ongoing treatments you may have had, such as chemotherapy or radiation
Even with successful colostomy reversals, the risk of failure, infection, and ongoing complications is high, so many people who begin with temporary colostomies decide never to have their stoma reversed. This is a decision best made between you and your healthcare team based on your individual health and risk of complications.
Most colostomies are done with the intent of being temporary, but the high risk of infection and failure with reversal surgery keeps many people from even attempting to regain natural bowel function.
Infections and leaking are some of the most common complications. Infections have the potential to progress to sepsis and become life threatening.
It may be helpful to talk with your doctor about your individual needs and risk factors when considering a colostomy reversal.