What Is an Ostomy Bag?

An ostomy bag is a collection system attached to a person to catch stool or urine. This bag is attached after an ostomy surgery, which creates an opening—called a stoma—between the inside of the body to the outside.

This article will discuss types of ostomy bags, whether they are permanent, and how to care for one.

person wearing ostomy bag

Sheila Alonso / Getty Images

How Does an Ostomy Bag Work?

An ostomy bag is a plastic pouch that collects either urine or stool. When someone has a colostomy or ileostomy, the bag collects stool. If someone has a urostomy, the bag collects urine.

The ostomy bag has a donut-hole opening. Around the opening is an adhesive that attaches to the skin surrounding the stoma. The bottom of the bag can have an opening that is closed except when the user needs to empty the bag.

The whole system allows urine or stool to collect naturally in the bag. The user does not need to do anything to force the contents into the bag. The ostomy bag is odor-resistant and sealed tight to prevent leaks.

Types of Ostomy Bags

There are several brands and types of ostomy bags. They can be broken up into two categories:

  • One-piece pouches: These have an ostomy bag and the skin barrier adhesive connected as one piece.
  • Two-piece pouches: The ostomy bag and skin barrier are separate pieces that connect. The ostomy bag can detach from the skin barrier allowing the user to empty, clean, or replace the bag without removing the skin barrier piece.

An ostomy bag can have an opening at the bottom to empty the contents. Ostomy bags that do not have an opening are taken off to empty.

An ostomy bag may be disposable or reusable, comes in several sizes and lengths, and is made from materials to prevent odor.

Living With an Ostomy Bag

An ostomy bag will take a while to get used to, but those with one can continue the same jobs and activities and live a very normal life. With some good planning, no one will know that a person has an ostomy bag.


A person with an ostomy bag can wear whatever they would like. Some people find that wearing an elastic-fitted garment over their pouch hides the pouch and compresses it evenly, so there are no lumps or bumps.  

Food and Drink

After ostomy surgery, a person may be asked to follow a low-residue diet for four to six weeks. After that time, if a specific diet was recommended based on a previous medical condition, that diet will most likely remain the same.


For many physical activities, an ostomy bag will not create any changes. Even swimming is allowed with an ostomy bag. Pool, fresh, and saltwater are all permitted. The ostomy bag is waterproof and should not leak into the water. Some swimsuits can conceal the ostomy bag if the wearer prefers that.

Are Ostomy Bags Permanent?

An ostomy bag can be a temporary or permanent part of someone's life. It will depend upon why the person needed an ostomy bag and their health conditions. This includes:

  • A temporary ostomy bag is used when intestinal problems can benefit from allowing the intestine to rest. The ostomy bag allows the intestine to stay empty and heal. This could be for a few weeks, months, or years. Eventually, the ostomy is reversed when the intestine has healed, and the intestine will function normally.
  • A permanent ostomy bag is used when a disease or condition permanently damages the intestine or rectum. The affected intestine is removed, and the ostomy bag will need to be permanent.


An ostomy bag is a collection pouch used to catch urine or stool. It is used for people who have a health condition that affects their body in a way that the digestive system needs to rest.

Ostomy bags come in many different sizes, shapes, and various features. If an ostomy bag is new to someone, they should contact a healthcare provider specializing in ostomy care to ensure they find the right ostomy bag for their situation.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. MedlinePlus. Ostomy.

  2. University of Chicago Medicine. A guide to ostomy bags and pouching systems.

  3. American Cancer Society. Types of colostomies and pouching systems.

By Patty Weasler, RN, BSN
Patty is a registered nurse with over a decade of experience in pediatric critical care. Her passion is writing health and wellness content that anyone can understand and use.