Is it an Ostomy Bag or an Ostomy Pouch??

Ostomy bag or ostomy pouch header small

I’ve had a few people write to me asking why I use the term “ostomy bag” when talking about ostomies, rather than “pouch”. I’d like to address this very interesting topic in this article!

What’s the problem?

The term “ostomy bag” can often feel derogatory, and there are many who fell that the term should not be used.

First, I’d like to say that my preference is to say either “ostomy pouch” or “ostomy appliance”, but I will very often refer to them as an  “ostomy bag” in my written articles, videos, and even when conversing between other ostomates.

That said, I do try to be sensitive when I speak to new ostomates and acknowledge that words can often impact someone’s outlook, so I’ll be more selective in those situations.

But which term is correct? Which is more acceptable?

There are actually quite a few names for the products we use to collect the urine or waste that comes out of our stoma.

  • Ostomy appliance.
  • Ostomy Bag
  • Ostomy Pouch
  • Pouching System
  • Medical device.
  • Ostomy kit.
  • Waste collection system.
  • Urine collection system.

I would argue that they are all acceptable to use when describing such products, but some people may find the term “bag” to be offensive or offputting.

I can completely understand this, and if I never had to say the word “ostomy bag” then it wouldn’t matter to me one bit, but there are several reasons why I have and will continue to use the term “ostomy bag” or “bag” in my articles and videos.

“Bag” is a term that appliance manufacturers use

What better place to find the correct term than the manufacturers who make these products, right?

Not necessarily!

Coloplast ostomy bag listing
Coloplast using “ostomy bag” on this education page.
Convatec ostomy pouch listing
ConvaTec uses the term “pouch” in their educational information.
Hollister Ostomy Pouches listing
Hollister lists their products as “pouches” or “pouching system”.

Many companies who make both supplies and accessories for people living with an ostomy still use the term “ostomy bag” in their literature, but not nearly as often as they use “ostomy pouch”.

This is actually quite interesting, especially when we consider the next point.

“Bag” is what people search for

I love digging into data, especially when it comes to data that can be used to help create and share information about ostomies to help benefit others around me.

As it turns out, far more people search for “ostomy bag” than they do “ostomy pouch”. In fact, in some countries, the term “ostomy pouch” is rarely used.

Wordwide google trends ostomy pouch and bag
Globally, “ostomy bag” is used far more often than “ostomy pouch”.
2004 to present ostomy bag and ostomy pouch
The long-term trend for each term in the USA is very interesting – look at how the term “ostomy bag” really took off recently.

This is of importance, because if I were to create content that never mentioned “ostomy bag”, it would not reach as many people. This is one reason why I like to use both “pouch” and” bag” in the same article or video.

Healthcare professionals use “bag” quite often

From hospitals to published research to large associations who oversee colorectal surgeons, the term “ostomy bag” is common.

Colon and rectal surgeons mention ostomy bag
American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons even mention “ostomy bag” on their educational page.
Registered nurse ostomy pouch and bag mention
This website for registered nurses references “ostomy bag” and “ostomy pouch” on the same page.

Now, I don’t know if it’s a coincidence or if healthcare professionals are simply “speaking the language of their patients”, but it is something to be aware of.

“Ostomy bag” is a very popular term in patent filings

Have a new invention for the ostomy world? Chances are you’ll file it under an “ostomy bag” breakthrough and not one for pouches.

According to patents indexed on Google Patents, there are more than twice as many patents filed using “ostomy bag” in the description as there are “ostomy pouch”.

And there are a lot of hits when searching for “ostomy bag”!

Google patents ostomy bag

The UOAA uses “bag”

The United Ostomy Association of America is probably one of the largest ostomy charities on the planet, and you’ll still find them using the term “bag”, although not nearly as often as they use “pouch”.

UOAA ostomy bag reference
The UOAA mentions the term “ostomy bag”, but they do use “pouch” more often.

I’m not surprised by this since their audience is primarily directed at new patients, but they do acknowledge the term “ostomy bag” when explaining about ostomy appliances.

The media uses “bag”

It’s far more likely that any report or story about a person who has an ostomy will include “ostomy bag” somewhere in the title or body of the article.

Huffington post ostomy bag mention
One example of many!

Part of me wants to believe they do this because more people would recognize that an ostomy bag is rather than an ostomy appliance or pouching system, but another part of me feels as if they use the term for shock value.

Using “bag” and “pouch” is good for SEO!

As I explained in my second point, people search for the term “ostomy bag” more often than they do any other term that describes the actual appliance.

As someone who creates content, I have to make sure that my information can be found easily, so I will use a blend of terms to describe a pouching system.

This is done intentionally and only because I know it will improve my content’s search engine visibility.

“Pouch” can be confusing

While the word “pouch” can be used to replace “bag” in certain instances, the term may lead to more confusion.

One example is in the case of a fairly common surgery in IBD, the ileoanal anastomosis (a.k.a a “j-pouch”). If you were to tell someone you have a “pouch”, they may not understand that you mean an ostomy pouch and not an internal pouch.

As one reader also mentioned, it’s common to use the term “pouch” to mean gastric pouch after gastric bypass surgery. If you were to also have an ostomy and called your ostomy bag a “pouch”, your healthcare professional may not know which “pouch” you’re referring to.

So what term should we use?

I’m not trying to use the ad populum fallacy by saying that “bag” is the right term to use because of everyone is using it, but I do want to make a point that it’s used often enough that it can’t simply be replaced with “pouch”, no matter how crude or primitive the term “ostomy bag” is to some.

But this does raise an interesting point. What if we all worked to eliminate the word “ostomy bag” from our vocabulary and replace it with the gentler sounding “ostomy pouch”?

We could certainly try, or we can put the same energy and work towards destigmatizing ostomies and ostomy appliances so the word won’t have as much of an emotional sting as it already does to some.

Question: What term do you use and why?

40 thoughts on “Is it an Ostomy Bag or an Ostomy Pouch??”

    • Posted by: @Cynthia Gonnella

      The term appliance makes me think of a coffee maker or hand help mixer.

      haha! Yes, it can! But “medical appliance" is an actual term if one prefers to use it. 

  1. I use “bag" at home (as in “I can’t talk now, I’m changing my bag"), and “pouch" when communicating with other ostomates, That’s because it can lead to confusion with people who use bag liners. Ex., “"How much do bags cost?", “How often do you change your bag?" and “… then you drop the bag into the toilet" can be very misleading if misunderstood.

    And don’t even get me started on barriers, wafers, and flanges! LOL

  2. Whats in a name? what some thing is called gives an immediate image in our minds! that image could be negative or positive. for most for the ostomates bag will not offend but for some one else it could really be an insulting remark. More awareness of bowel problems is being brought to the general public and in the UK bowel cancer is now the 3rd biggest killer. what puts it in that place is embarrassment to go in time to the doctor with symptoms!! what could make the journey harder for any one facing having an ostomy the sigma of a BAG!! How many medical terms over the years have changed so much so they are not now correct!! Being an ostmate is invisible but no less a life changing event, more awareness is happening and more help, if debate don,t happen because a subject is awkward well that slows the process. On the lighter side of what we call it my Dad used to ask me “is every thing ok with yer wee purse" What can ye say “No Change" lol

    • Love the wee purse John..  Good ‘ol dad.  huh?  I brought up an idea here in Harford, Ct. of Ostomy awareness–for our support group here.  We are gong to get some rocks and  paint them and put “ostomy support- and the google __####______" on them.  We will place them at resturants, banks, health centers, every place we can think of even T.V. stations. and raido stations.  These rocks will be placed in gardens near the doors… Many cancer support groups do this here.. So why not us??  think it is important to have others aware that this happens and can happen to anyone.. Many are like me = SURPRISE I got a what?????????? :-(   But the show must go on.   OCTOBER IS OSTOMY MONTH.. 

  3. It is really confusing when you are just starting out. Different people refer to the same things in very different ways. Add to that the fact that a new ostomate can be sick , tired  and afraid and it can all be a real challenge. Its not even just the bag, its the whole nomenclature.


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