Anatomy of an Ostomy Pouch Series: Part 2—What is an Ostomy Bag?
By Victoria McCallum RN
As mentioned in Part 1 of our Anatomy of an Ostomy Pouch series, choosing a pouching system can be overwhelming. Today’s blog focuses on the pouch (bag) itself: What is it? What kind do you need? Why are they so different? Any helpful tips?
What is an ostomy pouch?
An ostomy pouch collects your stool or urine, storing it safely until it is emptied. All pouches are made of a plastic, odour-proof material to discretely collect stoma waste.
What kind of pouch do you need?
While choosing a pouching system is largely based on personal preference, the stoma function (ileostomy versus colostomy) will be a deciding factor.
A drainable pouch can be part of a one-piece or two-piece system and has an opening at the end to allow for emptying. In a two-piece system the pouch clicks onto the flange/skin barrier and is resealable, much like a Tupperware lid seals to its base, allowing you to peek at your stoma and “burp” gas.
Drainable pouches are generally 22 - 30 cm (9 -12 inches) in length and come with either a clip or Velcro closure. Clip closure pouches have a tail that is folded over a clip to securely close it. Clips are reusable and remain strong regardless of how many times they are opened and closed- a crucial element!
TIP: After folding the end of the pouch around the clip, there may be a small bit of pouch that isn’t sealed. This area needs to be cleaned well after emptying. If stool remains here, you’ll smell it!
Another type of drainable pouch has a Velcro closure rather than a clip. The tail end of the pouch folds up towards your body until two pieces of long Velcro meet. As with any Velcro system, the two pieces are simply squished together—a great option if you suffer from dexterity issues. Velcro closures may be material or plastic: the latter being easier to clean.
A drainable pouch for urine (urostomy pouch) is slightly different: the pouch end has a twist tap to open and close for drainage. These specialized pouches contain an anti-reflux valve that prevents urine from splashing back onto the flange and stoma.
Non-drainable or closed-ended pouch
A non-drainable or closed-ended pouch is just what the name says: a pouch sealed at the bottom. This pouch requires removal as it cannot be emptied and reused. When it’s time to empty, the filled pouch is removed, discarded and a new pouch is popped on. These pouches can be anywhere from 8 - 30 cm (3 -12 inches) in length and are often recommended for low output stomas like colostomies. Closed-ended pouches provide a no-fuss option.
Why are pouches so different?
Pouches come in a variety of options: transparent or opaque; with or without a light material lining the underside; with or without a charcoal filter. How do you decide what pouch to use? Your nurse specializing in ostomy (NSWOC) will be able to guide your selection.
- Pouch material will dry after showering. Resist the urge to use your blow dryer! This can melt a hole in your pouch and/or cause a skin or stoma burn!
- Concerned about gas? Some pouches contain a charcoal filter which release gas independently and most importantly odorlessly! The filter has a tendency to clog when wet so it’s important to cover it while you’re in the water. Specially designed stickers come with the pouches for easy application. If your filter clogs, don’t worry. Your pouch is still fine, you’ll just have to release the gas yourself.
Still unsure? A number of ostomates use a variety of pouches to fit their lifestyle. Have fun trialing different products to see what works best for you.