If you or someone you know is navigating the sometimes scary and confusing world of a recent inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) diagnosis, chances are you’ll have come across references to an ‘-ostomy’ or ‘-ectomy’ at some point.

Maybe you’ve encountered ‘colostomy’ or ‘colectomy’, or perhaps ‘ileostomy’ or ‘ileectomy’ have cropped up in your research. Or maybe you’ve encountered some other combination of prefix and suffix that has you confused. For those new to the world of IBD, the medical jargon can all seem a bit Greek (quite literally, given that ‘ostomy’ is derived from the Greek stomia meaning ‘mouth’).

On top of the actual words themselves, their usage online can vary depending on location. American and Canadian websites often discuss ‘stomas’ with post-op patients proudly coming out as ‘ostomates’. In Australia and the UK the vernacular among patients tends to be a little different with ‘ectomies’ (as in colectomy, illeectomy etc.) being the terms of choice. As a result, if you’re trying to research these topics online it can be something of a terminological minefield.

So to borrow from the late Winston Churchill, we thought we’d help our readers avoid the dangers of ‘terminological inexactitude’ and supply you with the lingo you’ll need for those late night Google sprees.

To begin…

The terms ‘ostomy’ and ‘ectomy’ relate to surgical procedures that some IBD patients may need to undergo as part of their treatment. People living with certain types of cancer such as colon or rectal cancer may also undergo these procedures.

Ectomy

An ectomy is a surgical procedure involving the removal of something (this is what the suffix ‘ectomy’ means in medical terminology). For example a colectomy refers to the removal of the colon (which can be partial or total), while an ileectomy is the removal of the ileum (the lower part of the small intestine). Ectomies may be partial or complete.

Ostomy

An ostomy may be performed following an ectomy. An ostomy is a surgically inserted, artificial hole that allows waste to leave the body. It is also sometimes referred to as a stoma. The prefix attached to the ‘ostomy’ locates the artificial hole on the body: a colostomy means the stoma is attached to a part of the colon, while an ileostomy means the stoma is in the ileum.

So if someone has a partial colectomy then it’s likely they’ll have a colostomy as well – once a part of their colon is removed, a hole must be created through which waste can leave the body. Stomas may be temporary or permanent. A temporary ostomy may be required when a patient has surgery to create a J pouch (see below) – while the tissue heals, waste leaves the body through an ostomy and is collected in a colostomy bag.

Pouches

A J pouch, or sometimes just called a ‘pouch’, is an ileoanal reservoir or pouch. The reservoir is artificially created with a part of the ileum and connected to the anus in order to form a new rectum when sections of the rectum or colon have been removed. The pouch allows waste to pass through the anus and avoids the need for a permanent stoma to empty waste into a colostomy bag.

Of course each case of IBD is different and not all people will require surgical intervention as part of their treatment and IBD management. If you are confused or have concerns about your condition, surgery and IBD management you should speak to your doctor or an IBD care team.

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