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Socializing with an Ostomy

Human beings are social animals. If this natural desire is hindered in anyway, the quality of life for the majority of people will start to deteriorate almost immediately. Socializing for many ostomates can be a challenge. When we understand the factors that determine quality of life, it is easier to re-integrate into the society after ostomy surgery.

What factors affect an ostomate’s social life?

Each patient faces unique personal challenges that can determine how they socialize with family, friends or other people. Studies have however, identified common factors that play a role in an ostomate’s capacity to socialize. These include the following:

1. Patient’s general quality of life.

2. Ability to take care of self and the ostomy.

3. Patient’s outlook on life and hope for the future.

4. Problems at work.

5. Sexual anxiety.

6. Self-image.

7. Lack of privacy.

8. Fear of not finding appropriate disposal areas for ostomy related consumables.

9. Fear of accidental leakage.

Fear of odor and uncontrolled flatulence.

Socializing for a patient with an ostomy is further affected by other social-economic factors. While trying to help the patient become more socially active, it is important to keep these in mind.

  • Age.
  • Gender.
  • Marital status.
  • Educational attainment.
  • Access to medical insurance.
  • Monthly salary.
  • Duration of the stoma.
  • Living standards.
  • Presence of other chronic health conditions such as diabetes, arthritis or cardiovascular disorders.
  • Stoma complications.
  • Ongoing treatment for other conditions. This can include radiotherapy and chemotherapy for cancer.

Helping ostomy patients socialize

Since all patients are different, it is important to identify the patient’s main areas of social concern and then to plan appropriately.

The foundation for this help can be laid on the premise that the ostomy is there to improve the patient’s life. For example, if the surgery was done to alleviate symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease, the patient can be helped to understand that with an ostomy, the debilitating symptoms of IBD will go away and this will improve their wellbeing.

Gas, flatulence and stoma discharge

Issues with these are enough to keep the patient isolated. They can be informed that there are ostomy products that can help them cope. Filters, appropriate wear and use of the right pouches can reassure them. Nutritional advice can also help them in controlling the nature of stomal discharge especially where a colostomy or an ileostomy is involved.

Sports and other physical activities

Ostomates who were previously active can be hesitant to get involved once again after the surgery. Such patients can be reassured that they can participate in almost all physical activities and most sports. Relative contraindication only exists in sports that involve combative or aggressive bodily contact. Special wear allows patients to confidently engage in swimming among other recreational activities.

Self-love

Accepting oneself under the changed circumstances helps a patient to engage in social interactions better. It is impossible to expect others to accept you when you have not come to terms with your circumstances.

Sex and intimacy

This important social part of life is an area of major concern for many patients. They wonder how their partners see them. Education and encouragement can help such patients overcome this hurdle, helping them understand that there is more to sex and intimacy than the physical act itself. A health professional can provide suggestions about the availability of special wear that guarantees no accidents such as leakages during intimate moments.

Success in socializing for an ostomate needs multiple approaches. It starts with educating the patient, the immediate family and then the larger society. The health team should make continued effort in this regard since patient’s circumstances change and unique situations affecting their social life can arise.

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