Definition & Facts for Ostomy Surgery of the Bowel

In this section:

What is ostomy surgery of the bowel?

Ostomy surgery of the bowel is an operation that changes the way intestinal contents—the waste products of digestion—leave your body when part or all of your bowel is diseased, injured, or missing. Creating an ostomy—or stoma—means bringing part of the bowel through the abdominal wall so that intestinal contents leave your body through the abdominal wall instead of passing through the anus.

The bowel is part of the digestive tract and is made up of the

  • small intestine, which includes the duodenum, jejunum, and ileum. Most food digestion and nutrient absorption happen in your small intestine.
  • large intestine, which includes the appendix, cecum, colon, and rectum. The large intestine takes in water from stool and changes it from a liquid to a solid form.

Does ostomy surgery of the bowel have other names?

Ostomy surgery of the bowel is also called bowel diversion or fecal diversion.

What is a stoma?

A stoma is a surgical connection between an internal organ and the skin on the outside of your body. During ostomy surgery of the bowel, surgeons create an opening through the skin and muscle of your abdomen and bring the large intestine or small intestine through this hole. The surgeon then connects the intestine to the skin on the outside. A stoma may be about 3/4 inch to about 2 inches wide.1,2

After ostomy surgery, intestinal contents will leave your body through the stoma. A stoma has no muscle, so it cannot control the timing or flow of intestinal contents. In most cases, you wear a removable pouch, called an ostomy pouch or ostomy appliance, that is attached to the skin around your stoma to collect the intestinal contents.

Your stoma may be temporary or permanent, depending on the reason you need ostomy surgery.

An ostomy pouch hangs from a stoma on one side of the belly.
An ostomy pouch.

Are there other names for a stoma?

Health care professionals may use the name of the surgery to refer to the stoma created during the surgery. For example,

  • a stoma created during any type of ostomy surgery may be called an ostomy
  • a stoma created from the small intestine may be called an ileostomy
  • a stoma created from the large intestine may be called a colostomy

How common is ostomy surgery of the bowel?

In the United States, about 100,000 people have ostomy surgery of the bowel each year.3

Why do people need ostomy surgery of the bowel?

Doctors may recommend ostomy surgery to help treat many different diseases and conditions, including

Doctors may also recommend a temporary stoma if all or part of your large intestine needs time to rest after surgery. Intestinal contents will leave the body through the stoma before reaching the part of the intestine that needs to recover.


Last Reviewed June 2021
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This content is provided as a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), part of the National Institutes of Health. NIDDK translates and disseminates research findings to increase knowledge and understanding about health and disease among patients, health professionals, and the public. Content produced by NIDDK is carefully reviewed by NIDDK scientists and other experts.