Leaking is a common problem that affects people with colostomy bags. Your bag may leak for many reasons, such as wearing away of your skin around your stomach or allowing your bag to become too full.

A stoma is an opening in your abdomen that allows stool or urine to collect in a pouch outside of your body. Doctors make this opening with a procedure called an ostomy surgery.

About 100,000 ostomy surgeries are performed each year in the United States.

A colostomy is a type of stoma where your large intestines deliver stool to a colostomy bag. People most commonly receive colostomy bags after the receive a diagnosis of bowel cancer or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

If you notice a leak in your colostomy bag, it’s important to replace the bag and clean your skin to avoid irritation.

Read on to learn more about what you should do if your colostomy bag is leaking and what may cause your colostomy bag to leak.

Leaking of a colostomy bag is a common problem that has been reported in anywhere between 17% and 87% of people in different studies. In the Ostomy Life Study 2019, researchers surveyed more than 54,000 people with stomas from 17 countries. Among people who responded, 76% of people reported experiencing leaking at least once per month.

In an older version of the Ostomy Life Study, 91% of people reported worrying about leaking.

You may notice a foul odor coming from your colostomy bag if there’s a leak. Your coloscopy bag normally shouldn’t produce an odor since almost all modern pouches come with a charcoal filter to reduce odor caused by gas.

Leaking may also cause noticeable stoma output on your skin or on the backplate.

If you have reoccurring leakages, you may develop skin problems around your stoma, such as:

  • skin irritation
  • thickened patches of skin
  • small bump
  • skin soreness
  • itchiness

Your colostomy bag may leak for many reasons:

  • inappropriate ostomy placement during surgery
  • poor fit of your colostomy bag on the stoma
  • moist or irritated skin, which disrupts the seal between your skin and the bag
  • lack of protrusion of your stoma over your skin, which may allow stool to get under the seal
  • wearing an coloscopy bag for too long without changing it
  • overfull colostomy bag
  • trapped gas causing the bag to expand

Risk factors

Risk factors for developing leakage include:

  • having emergency ostomy surgery
  • not feeling confident to contact your doctor about problems
  • having a diagnosis other than bowel cancer
  • higher body mass index (BMI) score

Women report leakages about four times more often than men. Having a one-piece ostomy bag is associated with a higher risk of leaking than two-piece bags.

If you develop a leak, it’s important to remove the bag and wash your skin to avoid irritation. You can rinse the bag under running water and examine it for signs of physical damage.

It’s important to contact a doctor if you develop leaks, especially if they’re an ongoing problem.

You may be able to prevent stoma leakage by:

  • using an ostomy belt for additional support
  • speaking with your doctor if your stoma is level or below your skin (they may recommend changing from a standard to a convex barrier)
  • having your stoma measured regularly (the size of your stoma may change in the weeks after surgery)
  • applying the adhesive skin barrier to your skin when your skin is dry, clean, and shaved
  • speaking with your doctor if you have any skin issues around the stoma
  • emptying your pouch frequently
  • speaking with your doctor about dietary changes you can make to reduce gas
  • using a pouch lubricant to help with pancaking, which is when the sides of the pouch stick together and cause a blockage
  • making sure your supplies aren’t damaged or expired

It’s a good idea to contact your doctor if you develop a leak so you can figure out the underlying cause. Research suggests that people who are more willing to report problems have better outcomes.

Leakage is a common problem for people with colostomy bags. A leak may cause a detectable odor and irritation to the skin around your stoma.

It’s important to report leaks to your doctor to make sure the underlying cause is identified and managed properly. Some of the most common causes of leaks include overfilling your colostomy bag, an improper fit, or wearing your colostomy bag for too long without changing it.