Dealing with Ostomy Blockages (w/ video)


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.


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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Daniel Shaw
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
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
Finbarr Griffin

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