Dealing with Ostomy Blockages (w/ video)

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Blockages and partial blockages are a concern for ostomates, especially ileostomates, but there are several ways to both prevent and treat minor blockages.

In this article, I’ll go over some tips that I’ve found to be helpful in my own experience, but these tips shouldn’t replace the advice of your care provider.

Blockages are no joke, and I’ve been sent to the hospital because of one. If you feel that you might have anything more than a partial blockage, you should visit your local ER just in case.

Video

Causes of Blockages (Also Called a Bowel Obstruction)

Blockages can be caused by a number of reasons, but not all causes are in our control.

Some ostomates, for example, have strictures or motility issues that increase the chance of blockages. These people should work with their doctor to find solutions that help prevent blockages, including surgery.

Pregnancy, especially in the second and third trimesters, is a risk factor for bowel obstructions as well. If you are pregnant, it’s best to work with both a stoma nurse and an obstetrician to make sure that things go smoothly and you can plan what for what happens if any complications arise.

But for the majority of ostomates, blockages have to do with what and how we are eating.

A small group of ostomates may also experience blockages because their appliance is being put on too tight, and this can be especially problematic in the weeks following surgery when the stoma is more swollen than normal.

Preventing blockages

If your blockages are being caused by digestive issues, including structures, then it’s important that you’re following up with your GI or surgeon.  The tips below may or may not help if you’ve got problems that are unrelated to your stoma.

What you eat / How you Eat

I’m willing to bet that the majority of blockages are caused by what, or more importantly, HOW we eat.  This is actually good news since it means that we’re in control most of the time.

Typically, ileostomates are told to avoid certain foods, especially in the weeks following their surgery. I do have a more complete list of these foods HERE, but for the most part, they include:

  • Raw fruits and vegetables.
  • Whole nuts and seeds.
  • Beans and legumes (especially when dried & cooked).
  • Mushrooms.
  • Whole corn kernels
  • Other, similar foods.

I’ll be honest, I’m not the type of person who avoids foods, especially healthy foods, in order to prevent a blockage.  Instead, I make sure that I focus on how I’m eating those foods.

Here are my tips for avoiding food-related blockages:

  • Take your time. Eating should be something to do mindfully, and when you rush, you aren’t giving your body the time to chew, digest and assimilate your meals properly.
  • Chew!! Perhaps the most important thing you can do is to chew your food until it’s nearly liquid!  This is especially important when eating something like mushrooms, which don’t break down in your stomach or gut.
  • Go easy on your portion sizes! I tend to eat a few meals throughout the day, but my meals are often huge.  This can be problematic, even you’re eating mindfully and pacing yourself. Certain foods are easier to digest than others in large quantities, but if you’re able to eat less food at a time, you’ll be doing yourself a favor.
  • Drink with your meals. Drinking before, during and after a meal will help to move things along and prevent your output from becoming too thick and slow.
  • Experiment with new foods slowly. This is crucial in the first month or so after your surgery, and you should try small portions of new foods to see how it affects you before using it in a full meal.
  • Keep a food diary. You may find that certain foods are more problematic than others, so it might be helpful to keep a food diary until you feel comfortable with the food you regularly eat.

Signs of a blockage

If you’re unfortunate enough to have a blockage, there are symptoms that seem to be common among ostomates.

NG Tube
Wait too long and you’ll end up with an NG Tube, like I did! :(

Keep in mind that these may still vary from person to person, but I’ve experienced the following symptoms myself:

  • Decreased or no output over a prolonged period of time.
  • Unexpected liquid output that’s out of the norm.
  • Pain and/or pressure behind my stoma.
  • My stoma will retract.
  • Nausea.
  • Vomiting (this is a very bad sign!! Get to an ER if your blockage has lead to vomiting!).

I find that certain symptoms, like pain and pressure, can come on suddenly, while nausea and vomiting tend to happen much later (like 12+ hours after the blockage started). Again, this may differ from person to person.

Things I Do When I’m Experiencing a Blockage

When I feel that I’m experiencing a partial blockage, I tend to do the following:

  • Drink warm water or tea. This not only helps to flush my digestive system, but I find that warm fluid also help me relax (which is important to do in a situation like this).
  • I apply gentle pressure around my stoma and massage my abdomen. I’ve been told that many blockages are just behind the stoma, so massaging the area may help to loosen things up and get things moving again. You may find that some areas around your stoma are tender, so be gentle!
  • I’ll bend forwards, backward, sideways, and twist;  I may also try to bring my knees to my chest (either while laying down or standing). I find that these movements can also help to push things along.
  • I may remove my appliance to give my stoma more space to open up. If your appliance is too tight around your stoma, it could cause the flow of your output to be slowed down.  This will help when you’re using the massage technique, but I’d suggest hanging a “kitchen catcher” bag off your pant waist so it will catch any output.  You might also find that removing your appliance and massaging while under a warm shower can be quite effective.

Other suggestions

  • Some people like to take a warm bath when they feel a partial blockage coming on. If you do decide to have a bath, keep your appliance on.
  • A heating pad may also work as an alternative to having a warm bath.

Things NOT to do

  • Do not take laxatives. Taking a laxative if you are partially or completely blocked may cause some serious complications. I would also suggest not drinking liquids (like prune juice) if you have a complete blockage.
  • Do not eat until the blockage is resolved. As with laxatives, you don’t want to eat when you’re experiencing a blockage. When was the last time you unclogged a toilet by flushing paper towels down the drain? Same situation here.
  • Do not stick anything into your stoma unless a healthcare provider has given you specific instructions. Some ostomates who experience frequent blockages may be given a Foley catheter along with instructions on how to use it on themselves, but this should not be attempted without the OK from your doctor, surgeon or stoma nurse.
  • Do not ignore pain or vomiting! If you’ve got enough pain that you’re wincing or have vomited, then you should have been at your doctor’s office or ER a half hour ago! Seriously, don’t ignore these signs.
It may help to keep a special card to keep on you when visiting your ER. This card is available from the UOAA and can be downloaded and printed HERE.

Further Reading

You might enjoy some of my past articles detailing my experiences with partial and full blockages.  Please, learn from my mistakes!

Question: Have you experienced a blockage? What helps you?
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john68
Member

A whole devoted website to every thing ostomy, it doesn’t get much better than this

LK
Member

Wow, so many newbies or near newbies here. Welcome to you all. I found that Eric has provided so much valuable information here that this is the only place I go and keep coming back to. If you have questions or need to discuss something, you can go to the top of the page  click on “Forum” and “new topics” area to start a forum. Foods can be tricky sometimes and if you keep a food journal for about the first six months you will be able to better identify what works for your guts. Drink plenty of fluids with/between meals to help aide in digestion. If you, like most of us, enjoy a meal with pasta/rice or something similar, try and eat a salad and slightly softer cooked veggies with it to balance the hard/ soft, digestion issues. Fruits like honeydew, cantelope, and watermelon, back up a meal that is likely to thicken things up.  I find on occasion I have to relearn what I can and cannot eat.  John Dickin…On holiday yet, not fun at all. So sorry it had to be a bad experience for you. Heal well and take short walks to help move things along when you can. Stay hydrated.Liz Krohn…Fruit peels and skins can be hard to digest and fall under the insoluble fibers. Be careful with how much of it you eat. Skins around orange segments can have their say to.Awc19…Alice, rest assured that not everyone gets blockages or further tummy troubles. What brought you here after a 9 year stoma? I know that I needed people with a stoma in my life when I found this site. And am so glad I did. Eric always adds new things to educate us.Rachel…how sweet to take care of your grandma the way you do. Tell us a bit about her if you want and how and when she became an ostomate. How is that you get to help along her journey with her stoma? Is anyone else pitching In to help you? Daniel, Rachel and Finbar and anyone new reading this forum…Please do not try the suggestions of rubbing and pushing around your stoma and tummy too soon after surgery.  This can cause other issues with deeper stitches and scar tissue that have not healed yet. I asked my doctor to show me how my guts were laid out inside me after surgery. This can open the door to ask him about trouble shooting blockages and bad gas. Ask when and how, you should go to to ER if you have pain of any kind. A good lot of us have had years of experience and have healed well inside and out so these things can work for us, but you are all still healing and need the time to complete the task. If I feel too full a feeling in my belly and cramping I will lay down and rest, turning from side to side every ten min. or so. This helps to move gas around without the pushing on your tummy too soon after surgery. Certainly if the pain is bad, do not hesitate to make see your doctor, stoma nurse or ER department. Better safe, then sorry right? Down the road when things have healed more manipulating your gut may work for you, but give it at least a year just to be safe and always check with the doctor or stoma nurse. All the best to you all and most of all…be well.  

LizKrohn
Member

Watch out for apple skins. Rather peel!

Awc19
Member

Thanks, Rachel. I use YL products and have Digize which I have used for stomach aches and constipation. I am a newbie here and still gathering helpful tips. This is one I am not looking forward to having to try but will remember it when and if I need it.Alice 

LizKrohn
Member

We need special facebook or other platforms so us veterans can help newbies AND I learn something new each time. I had a skin problem and it was a newbie that helped me change my whole skin protection method. No more skin problems!!!

Rachel
Guest
Rachel

When my grandma has a blockage, I rub some YL Digize oil on her belly. Normally within 2 hours everything starts rushing out.

Daniel Shaw
Guest
Daniel Shaw

I really found a lot of this information helpful. However being that I have been dealing with this for a very long time and dealt with most of the stuff that you have discussed. There is 1 things that has worked for me that has not been mentioned being that I’ve had this condition for quite a while I have noticed that you can internally plush as if you are trying to go to the bathroom! If you have a blockage at the same time gently apply pressure and push in around you’re stoma and your blockage might shoot loose. I find it best to do this without a bag in the shower you would be amazed at what will come out I’ve had whole slices of mushrooms yes at that time I did not know not to eat mushrooms. Also my GI gave me the worst advice possible I had choked on a piece of me and after looking at my throat decided that it was Scar from acid reflux. So it was decided to do a surgery on my throat. All that was fine but Mighty I told me not to eat meat which dissolves quite fine in my stomach when I said well what should I eat he told me pasta. Then I G I told me to take antacid every single morning. So following my GI instruction taking my antacid every morning I had a bowl of mac and cheese which dissolved in my stomach and became a complete hard blockage in my intestines swallowing my whole stomach up to the point of me squeezing my intestines and all it was very painful. It’s been a week now I’m mostly cleared out but still have some blockage. I think I’m close to getting it all out but the last thing I want to do is go to the hospital have never had a pleasant experience there. LOL

John Dickin
Guest
John Dickin

Thanks for your help.Illiostomy 9years. It decided to block now while motohoming in Portugal. Three weeks in Faro General . Two with tube up nose into stomach. Out now thee days in and a few twinges. Decided to recover here in Portugal, as weather is great here compared to U.K. Eating little and often, water only, no salad very week at the moment due to hospitalization. But like a flat battery. but I will get there. Good Luck. John.

Finbarr Griffin
Member
Finbarr Griffin

Fantastic article, and really informative. Your information on all aspects of having an ostomy is educating me.
Thank you.