I love pancakes, but I don’t like pancaking! In the world of ostomies, pancaking can be a frustrating, challenging and sometimes a messy ordeal. Pancaking applies mostly to colostomates, although some ileostomates with thick stool might experience this too.
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First, a quick definition:
“Pancaking” is a word that an ostomate might use to describe when their stoma output stays on the top part of the pouch and/or collects around the stoma.
Without anyplace for the stool to go (stubborn stool!), it often forces its way under the wafer or muscles through to push the pouch off. Obviously, nobody wants to deal with leaks in this way, so it’s important to identify the cause and correct the problem.
I’m my experience with thick ileostomy output, pancaking has only caused leaks when it happens overnight; when it happens during the day, I can usually intervene before things go south.
Here are a few possible causes and some things to try:
There are a few ways of dealing with thick stool; I wrote an entire article about it HERE, but these tips are specific to help prevent pancaking.
Lubricate the inside of your pouch. This can be done using a lubricating gel or liquid designed specifically for ostomy pouches, or using DIY methods like olive oil or cooking spray. The idea is to coat the inside of your pouch so that stool can slide down to a happy place at the bottom of your pouch. Lubricants need to be reapplied whenever the pouch is emptied, but it’s important that you Lubricate up to the top of the pouch (if possible).
Drink more liquids. Adding more water or other fluids to your diet will help to soften stool. Some people might try beverages known to loosen output like prune, apple or grape juice; other options like coffee or even soda could create the same effect too.
Increase fiber intake, but focus on insoluble fiber. This shouldn’t be a problem if you’re eating a lot of plant foods, but increasing insoluble fiber will move things along and can prevent stool from becoming dry, hard and difficult to pass. You’d typically want to focus on whole grains, vegetables and produce with skins. Use caution with high-fiber intake if you’re fresh out of surgery.
Some ostomates are told to take laxatives by their doctor. I would personally avoid this option as laxatives can create other problems down the road. Check with your stoma nurse or doctor if you feel that laxatives are needed.
Check Your Filter
Believe it or not, some pouch filers work too well, and they remove air from the bag while creating a vacuum at the same time. If this is the case for you, cover the outer filter on your pouch using a sticker (they often come included with your pouches). Some brands, like Hollister, don’t include these stickers, so you’ll have to improvise and use tape or something similar.
If it turns out that your filter is being too aggressive, keep using the sticker, and periodically remove it when your pouch begins to fill with gas. If this is too much trouble, you might want to try other pouch systems to see if another style of filter weekends l works better.
You can also try blowing a bit of air into the pouch when you empty or change it; this bit of air will counter the vacuum effect and will help regardless if your pouch has a filter on it or not.
I’ve heard of some ostomates putting a bit of wet tissue/toilet paper inside their pouch to prevent the pouch from being too flat. This method is similar to blowing air in your pouch, although it may not prevent the vacuum effect caused by a filter. The downside is that it’s more inconvenient to use this method.
Let’s Get Physical!
Sometimes you have to manually move pancaked stool down in order to avoid problems from developing. Don’t be afraid to push, shove and squeeze that stool down to the bottom of your pouch. This may be necessary if you’re wearing an ostomy wrap or tight-fitting clothes.
- If you’re covering your filter, uncover it at night so you don’t have problems with ballooning (when your pouch is too full of gas).
- Rinse the inside of your pouch before changing it, as it’ll help remove any stool that might be stuck around your stoma.
- Rinsing can also help to empty your pouch during regular toilet visits.
- Some oil lubricants may reduce your wear time, so use a commercial ostomy lubricant to minimize that risk.
- Experiment with different ostomy systems to see if another brand or style reduces pancaking for you. This may be necessary if the filter on your current pouch is too troublesome.