Staying Active and Traveling When You Have an Ostomy

Everyone needs daily exercise to stay healthy and keep good body function. An ostomy should not keep you from exercising and playing sports, although athletes sometimes wear longer shirts or shorts with higher waistbands, depending on the location of the stoma. In fact, people with ostomies are distance runners, weight lifters, skiers, swimmers, and take part in most sports.

There are a few safety measures you should think about. For instance, many doctors recommend avoiding contact sports because of possible injury to the stoma from a severe blow or because the pouching system may slip. But special protection can prevent these problems. Weight lifting could cause a hernia at the stoma. Check with your doctor about such sports. Indeed, people with ostomies are distance runners, weight lifters, skiers, swimmers, and take part in most sports.

Swimming

You can swim with your pouching system in place. For sanitary reasons, you should use a stick-on pouch when you go swimming in fresh water or in the ocean. Remember these points:

  • If you use a support ostomy belt, you can leave it on if you want to.
  • You may want to protect the barrier by taping the edges with waterproof tape.
  • Before swimming, empty your pouch and remember to eat lightly.

Choosing a swim suit

You may want to choose a swim suit with a lining for a smoother profile. Dark colors or busy patterns can also help hide the pouching system.

For women:

  • Consider a suit with a well-placed skirt or ruffle.
  • You may also wear stretch panties made especially for swim suits.

For men:

  • Try a suit with a higher waist band or longer leg.
  • You may also wear bike shorts or a support garment sold in men’s underwear departments or athletic wear departments under their bathing suits.
  • Some men may prefer to wear a tank top and trunks, if the stoma is above the belt line.

Traveling when you have an ostomy

All methods of travel are open to you. Many people with ostomies travel just like everyone else; this includes camping trips, cruises, and air travel. Here are some travel tips:

Take along enough supplies to last the entire trip plus some extras. Double what you think you may need, because supplies may not be easy to get where you’re going. Even if you don’t expect to change your pouch take along everything you need to do so. Plastic bags with sealable tops may be used for pouch disposal. Leave home fully prepared. Find out if and where you can get supplies before a long trip. A local ostomy support group may be able to help you find ostomy supplies and local medical professionals.

Seat belts will not harm the stoma when adjusted comfortably.

When traveling by car, keep your supplies in the coolest part of the car. Avoid the trunk or back window ledge.

When traveling by plane, remember that checked-in luggage sometimes gets lost. Carry an extra pouching system and other supplies on the plane with you. Small cosmetic bags or shaving kits with plastic linings work well. These should be kept in your carry-on bag. Air travel security will generally let you take on all medical supplies. You may want to review the Transportation Security Administration’s information at: www.tsa.dhs.gov/travelers/airtravel/specialneeds/index.shtm

To avoid problems with customs or luggage inspection, have a note from your doctor stating that you need to carry ostomy supplies and medicine by hand. Further problems might be avoided by having this information translated into the languages of the countries you are visiting.

Before traveling abroad, get a current list of English-speaking doctors in the areas you’ll be visiting. The International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers (IAMAT) at 716-754-4883 or www.iamat.org publishes lists of English speaking doctors who were trained in North America or Europe and are available in many countries around the world.

Traveler’s diarrhea is a common problem for tourists in foreign countries, whether you have an ostomy or not. The most common cause of diarrhea is impure water and/or food. It may also be caused by changes in water, food, or climate. Don’t eat unpeeled fruits and raw vegetables. Be sure drinking water is safe. If the water isn’t safe, don’t use the ice either. Bottled water or boiled water is recommended, even for brushing your teeth.

Note for people with ileostomies: your body may lose water and minerals quickly when you have diarrhea. For this reason, you may need medicine to stop the fluid and electrolyte loss. Your doctor can give you a prescription to control diarrhea. Get it filled before you leave so that you can take the medicine with you just in case you need it.

In its original form this document was written by the United Ostomy Association, Inc. (1962-2005) and reviewed by Jan Clark, RNET, CWOCN and Peg Grover, RNET. It has since been modified and updated by:

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master’s-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Last Medical Review: June 1, 0017 Last Revised: June 12, 2017

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