A colostomy bag doesn’t really affect how long you’ll live. A better indicator of your life span will be how well the colostomy bag helped treat your underlying condition.

You may get a colostomy bag for a number of reasons. Emergencies and traumatic injuries can lead to an ostomy, or it might be done to treat conditions such as bowel disease or cancer.

For some people who have a colostomy bag, the bag is a temporary device to divert solid waste during a healing and recovery phase. For others, it’s permanent.

This article will review the life expectancy of people with colostomy bags, and how this procedure may affect your life span.

Your long-term outlook with a colostomy depends on the reason for the procedure in the first place.

You may not need a colostomy forever, and temporary colostomies are most common when they’re created to treat a traumatic injury or emergency issue such as a volvulus or bowel obstruction.

The healing process for these kinds of issues can take anywhere from weeks to years, but overall survival rates are usually high. In some cases, once healing is complete, your colostomy can be reversed, and you’ll go back to pooping the natural way.

If your colostomy was performed to help treat a chronic bowel problem such as Crohn’s disease or a type of cancer, your colostomy may be permanent.

Your colostomy bag itself has less to do with your survival rate in these situations than the underlying problem the ostomy was created to treat. Chronic diseases such as Crohn’s disease and other inflammatory bowel conditions are usually progressive.

Even with the creation of a colostomy, you may continue to experience symptoms of your condition, flare-ups, and various complications.

For colorectal and other bowel cancers, a colostomy can be curative, since the diseased areas are surgically removed. Your overall outlook will depend on your specific type of cancer, how much of your bowel was removed as treatment, and whether or not your cancer spread to other areas of the body.

Some studies estimate that colostomies are curative for 50–95% of people with colorectal cancers.

There isn’t really a time limit on how long you can live with a colostomy bag.

If the use of the colostomy bag was to help you heal from a temporary problem or injury, you can usually expect to have your colostomy reversed in time and return to life as usual for the most part.

If your colostomy was used to treat a chronic disease or cancer, parts of your bowel are likely to be removed permanently. There are various risks that can develop with a colostomy, and your chances of experiencing these risks are greater the longer you have your colostomy.

Your survival also depends on how effective the procedure was at treating or even curing the underlying condition.

Risks such as infections and irritations are common complaints for people living with a colostomy. Internal leaking of bowel contents around the areas where the surgery was performed is a common and serious risk of colostomy surgery, but one that usually develops in the short term.

If you go home with a colostomy bag for a long period of time or permanently, you might run into difficulties such as:

  • blockages
  • skin breakdown
  • skin irritation
  • prolapse or protrusion of your ostomy

Good, regular bowel and stoma care and a diet tailored to your new needs can help you avoid risks. Your healthcare team will help you find the devices and products that best fit your lifestyle and can help you address any ongoing issues you have with managing your stoma.

Once your colostomy goes through the initial healing stages, you should be able to resume most of your normal activities. A colostomy bag can take physical, emotional, and psychological adjustment.

But once you accept your colostomy and learn to take care of it, there isn’t much you need to avoid with it.

Your healthcare team may suggest certain diet changes, or foods to avoid with a colostomy. These usually include high-fiber foods and gas-producing foods that could make your bag fill quickly with stool or air. You may also have to change some of your regular exercises.

Additionally, anal sex should be avoided if you’ve had rectal surgery, but talk with your healthcare team about your individual procedure and any possible risks.

Having an ostomy is considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

A colostomy is a prosthetic device used to treat a physical impairment of a core body function, so you’re protected by law against discrimination in the workplace or elsewhere.

Having a colostomy isn’t always obvious, and it may not be visible to others. If you feel like your activities, work, or quality of life are being restricted by others because of your colostomy, you’re protected by the ADA and can seek legal help.

If you’re worried about having a colostomy bag, just remember, you’re not alone. An estimated 1 million people in the United States alone have some sort of ostomy, including the following past and present famous faces:

  • Dwight D. Eisenhower
  • Fred Astaire
  • Jerry Young
  • Napoleon Bonaparte
  • Sharon Osbourne (temporary ileostomy)
  • Tony Snow

You can live a long and full life with the proper care of your colostomy. If your colostomy didn’t cure the condition you were treated for — such as certain types of cancers — you may still need ongoing treatment. In many cases, though, ostomies are either temporary or curative.