You can have a long and possibly complicated recovery period after having a colostomy reversal. There is risk of infection and other side effects, but it’s still regarded as safe and effective.

Not all colostomies are permanent. If you’ve had a colostomy because a section of your bowels was removed due to cancer or another condition, you may have to keep the ostomy for the rest of your life.

But when your colostomy was to allow an injured or surgically repaired area to heal, reversal is common.

This article will help you understand how colostomies are reversed, how successful this procedure is, and what to expect in the long run if you are having your colostomy reversed.

Colostomies that are used to manage conditions such as inflammatory bowel diseases and diverticulitis are often reversible. If you had a blockage, acute flare-up, or traumatic injury, reversal will only be considered once the initial issue is completely healed. For many people, this happens at least 3 months after your colostomy was created.

When the time comes to reverse your colostomy, your healthcare team will discuss options and possible complications with you. Your chance of a successful recovery after colostomy reversal depends on several things.

Factors that may interfere with your plans to reverse a colostomy include:

If you are ready for a reversal, though, your surgeon will reconnect the healed section of your bowels and close your stoma, allowing waste to be excreted naturally again.

Your healthcare team will explain the specific procedure for your colostomy placement and possible reversal since procedure types and options can vary from person to person.

How successful your colostomy reversal is depends on many factors, but mainly why and how your initial surgery was done. If you had large sections of your intestines or areas of your rectum removed, reversal can be difficult and risky. For this reason, up to 50% of people who planned on their colostomies being temporary end up keeping them permanently.

Reasons for keeping a temporary colostomy permanently can include:

  • problems healing
  • infection
  • leaking fluids around the surgical site

Some types of reversals, like Hartmann’s procedure, have high complication rates.

Your healthcare team will weigh the options and specific risks with you based on your age, overall health, your specific condition, and how and why your colostomy was placed.

As with any surgical procedure, a colostomy reversal can be complicated by poor wound healing and infection. This is especially true when it comes to colostomy reversal since the surgical areas are in contact with bodily wastes.

Even with a successful reversal, some people can experience permanent bowel changes long after surgery such as:

If your colostomy reversal was successful, you can expect to stay in the hospital for around 3–10 days after surgery.

The main goal of this time in the hospital is to make sure you don’t develop an infection, that your wound is healing properly, and that you are able to have a bowel movement naturally again.

Some studies estimate that nearly 30% of people who have a colostomy reversal experience some kind of complications after the procedure, but overall it’s viewed as a safe and effective surgery.

Your life expectancy after colostomy reversal depends on what complications you experienced after your initial stoma placement and the reversal surgery. It also depends on how effectively the colostomy helped to treat your underlying problem.

High rates of possible complications cause some people to refuse reversals, but one study showed a 5-year survival rate of almost 90% of people who had their colostomy for diverticulitis reversed.

For cancers, colostomies are often curative, since the goal is to remove all cancerous tissue.

Studies estimate that colostomies cure colorectal cancers in 50–95% of cases. It’s also estimated that around two-thirds of people who undergo ostomy surgery for colorectal cancer treatment have a successful reversal within a year or two of initial placement.

Reversal of a colostomy is a pretty uncomplicated surgical procedure, but the nature of this surgery can make the recovery process and long-term outlook more complicated. Many people choose not to have their colostomy reversed due to the risk of infection and other complications. However, in most cases, it’s generally thought to be a safe and effective option.

Your individual risks and outcomes after colostomy reversal depend on a lot of factors, so undergoing reversal surgery is a decision best made by you and your healthcare team.