As many as 45 million Americans deal with colon spasms every year. They’re quite common, especially if you suffer from IBS. Colon spasms, also known as spastic colon, are sudden muscle contractions in the colon that can disrupt bowel movements.
Colon spasms may be your body’s way of letting you know there’s something wrong with your digestive health. When your bowel habits alternate between constipation and diarrhea, this can indicate more severe causes that should be treated right away.
What is a spastic colon?
A spastic colon is when you experience spontaneous contractions of the muscles in your colon. These are commonly called colon spasms. The contractions of the colon walls can be too strong, causing the colon to fall out of sync with its typical muscle contraction.
When working normally, your colon muscles regularly expand and contract to get rid of stool. Spasms of the colon are frequently associated with irritable bowel syndrome.
The colon is part of your large intestine. It regulates the formation and excretion of feces from food that is transported through the small intestine.
What are the symptoms of a spastic colon? Common symptoms of a spastic colon include:
- Abdominal pain
- Colon cramps
- Changes in bowel movements
- Excessive gas
- The urgency to have a bowel movement
- Mucous in the stool
Colon spasms do not constitute a medical condition. They are simply a symptom of several different health conditions. On occasion, colon spasms happen with no explanation.
Spasms in your colon used to be the defining symptom of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). “Spastic colon” was an early term used to describe IBS.
What do colon spasms feel like?
Involuntary colon spasms can feel like sharp or dull cramping in the abdomen, a feeling of fullness or tightness, the sudden and immediate urge to go to the restroom, and pain in the abdomen, particularly on the lower left side.
The sensations you feel can depend on how far up your large intestine the spasm occurs. Colon spasms are frequently associated with IBS. IBS patients experience similar symptoms that often mirror or accompany colon spasms.
What can be done to reduce the pain of a spastic colon? For many people, a simple change in diet and increased physical activity, along with reduced stress, can help to reduce pain caused by colon spasms. In some cases, anticholinergic medications may be needed for further pain relief.
Causes of Spastic Colon
Although we don’t know the exact mechanism of why colon spasms happen (much like hiccups), we do know that certain health conditions increase the likelihood of experiencing a spastic colon.
These are the health conditions that can cause colon spasms:
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
- Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO)
- Food allergies or intolerances (like celiac disease)
- Stomach flu (AKA gastroenteritis)
- Food poisoning
- Ulcerative colitis
- Crohn’s disease
- Distended or enlarged colon
- An intestinal blockage
- Bacterial infection in your digestive tract
- Parasite infections
- Trapped gas
- Chronic stress
- Excess physical stress or muscle strain
The most common cause of colon spasms is an irritable bowel syndrome flare up.
Is irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) different from colon spasms?
IBS is a primary cause of colon spasms. However, these intestinal spasms can be triggered by other health conditions.
Is a spastic colon serious?
While spastic colon is not typically considered life-threatening, it can significantly impact an individual’s well-being and daily life. It is important to seek medical advice for proper diagnosis, screen for colon cancer, and rule out any underlying conditions that may require additional treatment.
Treatment for Spastic Colon
Treatment for spastic colon focuses on alleviating symptoms. There are at-home remedies and medical treatment options to find relief.
What is the treatment for a spastic colon? Treatment for a spastic colon often starts at home with a combination of lifestyle changes. Simple changes in your everyday routine like stress relief, physical activity, and dietary changes have the potential to vastly improve spastic colon and your wellness in general.
Managing stress lowers your risk of IBS and other health problems that can trigger bowel spasms. Stress has been shown to negatively affect gut health.
Try meditation or yoga to relax your nervous system and alleviate the chronic stress from everyday life.
Getting a full night’s sleep is another way to improve body function, reduce stress, and lower anxiety. Sleep quality is also important. Cut out blue light emissions from technology an hour or two before bed.
The blue light can trick your brain into thinking the sun is still out. Use code PRIMEHEALTH for 10% off of our favorite blue-light-blocking glasses at Ra Optics.
Regular exercise is not only great for weight loss, but it can also normalize digestive diseases.
Plus, in addition to being good for your gut health, exercise is a natural antidepressant, so it’s a win-win for wellness.
But make sure not to exercise an hour or so before bed. A high body temperature can make it hard to go to bed right away.
Spastic Colon Diet
On top of stress management and regular exercise, dietary changes are a reliable method of improving colon spasms.
First, here are some foods you should eat to discourage colon spasms from occurring:
- Fiber — This can be a double-edged sword. Fiber may help with constipation but can worsen diarrhea. If you have IBS with constipation, and you want to reduce colon spasms, consult a medical professional about adding fiber to your diet.
- Probiotics — Whether via dietary supplements or probiotic foods, getting probiotics into your gut can undo all sorts of damage. Probiotics can reverse stress-induced damage to your gut. And 2019 research suggested multi-strain probiotics can improve IBS, which can trigger colon spasms.
- Intermittent fasting — Also known as bowel rest, intermittent fasting may relieve IBS symptoms, such as colon spasms. If you eat too much too quickly, your GI tract doesn’t have enough time to properly process the food. Fasting in the mornings or evenings can help correct this issue.
- Low-FODMAP diet — This diet is meant to be a short-term elimination diet. FODMAPs are fermented carbohydrates that can trigger digestive issues. But the low-FODMAP diet is a well-established method of treating IBS, the most common cause of colon spasms.
What foods trigger spastic colon? Spastic colon can be triggered by different foods for different people. In general, the following foods tend to trigger colon spasms:
- High-FODMAP foods — Avoid foods that are high in FODMAPS can solve any food allergen-related health problems. Avoid common food allergens, as well as beans, garlic, onions, fruits, asparagus, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, mushrooms, and sugar alcohols.
- Potential food allergens — The most common food allergies are wheat (gluten), dairy products (lactose intolerance), corn, shellfish, soybeans, eggs, peanuts, and tree nuts.
- Excess alcohol — Alcohol use disorder increases the risk of IBS and colon spasms.
- Tobacco products — Tobacco consumption is horrible for your overall health. As far as your gut, smoking increases your risk of Crohn’s disease, a colon spasm risk factor.
Medical Treatment for Colon Spasms
If your colon spasms aren’t subsiding or worsening, it may be time to consult a healthcare provider. A doctor can evaluate your digestive system and run diagnostics like stool or blood tests, or x-rays. They may suggest a colonoscopy to examine the colon and rectum for ulcers or signs of cancer.
Because colon spasms are commonly caused by IBS, at PrimeHealth Denver, we always run a SIBO test on our incoming patients. Most cases of IBS that we’ve found are triggered by small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, SIBO.
The healthcare providers at PrimeHealth will work with you to identify which of the IBS triggers you are struggling with, tailoring an individualized treatment plan to find relief.
When colon spasms require doctor assistance, some of the medical treatment options they may suggest or prescribe include:
- Antidiarrheal medication — This medicine slows down or stops loose stool. The most popular over-the-counter brand name is Pepto-Bismol.
- Antispasmodic medication — Also known as a spasmolytic, this type of drug reduces and/or prevents the involuntary spasming of various muscles, such as the colon. Commonly prescribed antispasmodics are Dicyclomine (Bentyl) and Hyoscyamine (Levsin).
- Anticholinergic medication — By blocking the neurotransmitter called acetylcholine, these meds can affect muscle contraction and relaxation. Anticholinergics are prescribed to treat overactive bladder, COPD, IBS, and general muscle spasms.
- Laxatives — In rare cases, like IBS with constipation, a doctor may suggest a laxative. This is not the most efficient treatment since it might not treat all the symptoms, like bloating and stomach pain.
Many pharmaceuticals come with undesirable side effects. It’s always best to start with home remedies like stress management and the low-FODMAP diet when looking for how to stop colon spasms.
If your doctor can diagnose the root cause of your colon spasms, treating the cause instead of the symptoms should get rid of colon spasms and treat the health problems you recently discovered.
If you live in the greater Denver area, schedule an appointment with PrimeHealth. We work with patients to determine the underlying triggers of their colon spasms. Our treatment options are low on side effects and high on patient satisfaction.
What can you do to prevent colon spasms?
Preventing colon spasms involves adopting a holistic approach to overall digestive health. This includes the home remedies mentioned.
A well-balanced diet, avoiding trigger foods such as high-FODMAP items, managing stress levels, staying physically active, maintaining regular bowel habits, and considering the use of probiotics to support gut health can help keep colon spasms away for good.
When to Call a Doctor
Most colon spasms are not life-threatening. If they persist, talk to your doctor. Together, you can diagnose the underlying cause and chart out a simple treatment plan.
If you show signs of an intestinal/bowel obstruction, seek immediate medical attention. Here are intestinal/bowel obstruction symptoms to look for:
- Inability to defecate
- Bloody stool or rectal bleeding
- Sweating, fever, and chills
- Severe abdominal pain
- Stomach swelling
- Losing your appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
Obstructions in your GI tract can be life-threatening. If you don’t exhibit symptoms of obstruction, then your colon spasms are probably not dangerous.
However, if your colon spasms accompany symptoms of dire disorders like ulcerative colitis or IBS, it is wise to treat these underlying causes before they cause further complications.
Looking to the Future
Just because colon spasms are common doesn’t mean you have to live with them. Home remedies should reduce colon spasms, and a visit to your doctor can ease any worries you have.
For most people with gastrointestinal disorders, dietary changes, and stress relief are often good enough to improve overall health, including colon spasms.
For an individualized treatment plan for your gut health issues, schedule an appointment with PrimeHealth. We work with patients in the greater Denver area to determine the underlying triggers of digestive issues and reverse symptoms for lasting relief.
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