Your nursing assistants probably know that an “ostomy” is a surgical procedure that creates a special opening in the body connecting an internal organ with the surface of the body. But how much do they really know about ostomies? At your next CNA inservice meeting, try asking these 7 questions…and see if you get the right answers.

Ostomy Q & A for Your CNAs

Q: How many different types of ostomies are there?

A: There are many different kinds of ostomies. Each type is named after its location in the body. For example, a colostomy is located in the colon (the large intestine). An ileostomy is located in the ileum (the small intestine). A urostomy is located in the urinary system. An ostomy in the stomach is called a gastrostomy and an ostomy in the trachea (the windpipe) is called a tracheostomy.

Q: Only old people have ostomies, right?

A: No. There are people of all ages with ostomies. For example, some babies are born with defects in their bowels or bladders that require them to have permanent ostomies. And, many young adults have had ostomy surgery as a treatment for chronic digestive diseases like ulcerative colitis.

Q: Isn’t odor a big problem for people with ostomies?

A: Well, odor can be a problem, but keep in mind that you’ve probably met a number of people with ostomies-and haven’t even known it! There are several ways to deal with the odor issue. It helps to use an odor-proof ostomy appliance. And, there are personal care and nutrition tips for dealing with odor.

Q: What’s an enterostomal therapist?

A: An enterostomal therapist-or ET for short-is a health care professional who has been specially trained to work with people before and after ostomy surgery. They assist with the physical and emotional needs of ostomates.

Q: Is an ostomy always permanent?

A: No. Sometimes, surgeons create an ostomy with the hope of reversing the procedure in the future. The ostomy gives the digestive or urinary system a chance to heal (from either disease or trauma). After a few months, another operation is performed to “hook up” the normal anatomy again. An ostomy is permanent when parts of the digestive or urinary system have been removed or were never present in the first place.

Q: I’ve heard of irrigating a colostomy. What’s that all about?

A: Irrigation involves rinsing out the colon. Some colostomates perform this procedure as a way to control the timing of their bowel movements. (However, they still wear an appliance in case of a “surprise”.) Irrigation can be risky and should only be performed according to doctor’s orders.

Q: Some stomas are so red. Is that normal-and does a stoma hurt?

A: Most stomas are created from a piece of the intestines. Intestinal tissue is normally very red, but it has no nerve endings-so a stoma does not hurt.

Linda H. Leekley BS, RN
President, In the Know, Inc.

Do you struggle to provide your nursing assistants with high quality continuing education? With more than 120 inservice topics, In the Know has the solution to nearly any problem facing your nurse aides. (For a more comprehensive look at ostomies, consider our inservice, “Understanding Ostomies & Ostomy Care”.) Using our inservices ensures that your CNAs will learn more-and achieve more. As a result, their client care will improve dramatically! And, we stand by the superior quality of our teaching materials with a 60-day money back guarantee. Please visit my website at to download a FREE Inservice Topic.

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