Tens of millions of Americans deal with colon spasms every year. When your bowel habits alternate between constipation and diarrhea, this can indicate other root causes that need to be treated right away.
Colon spasms may be your body’s way of letting you know there’s something wrong with your digestive health. There are several underlying causes of colon spasms that can be life-threatening.
In this article, you will learn what colon spasms are, how to avoid them, and how to treat them at home or at the doctor.
What are colon spasms?
When working normally, your colon muscles expand and contract to get rid of stool.
A colon spasm is a sudden contraction of the muscles in your colon walls, either too strong or out of rhythm. 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.
Colon spasms are not really a medical condition in themselves. They are simply a symptom of several different health conditions. Occasionally, 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.
Can you feel colon spasms?
People do not feel normal colon activity. But when colon spasms interrupt your everyday life, it is easy to feel the symptoms.
If you’re wondering what colon spasms feel like, you’ve come to the right place. Involuntary colon spasms often cause pain on your left side, but it can depend on how far up your large intestine the spasm occurs.
Colon spasms are often associated with IBS and symptoms of IBS. Here are the IBS symptoms that often accompany colon spasms:
- Abdominal pain
- Loose stool
- Mucus in stool (white or clear)
- Alternating diarrhea and constipation
- Sudden urge to have a bowel movement
Colon spasms often trigger pain or discomfort on the left side of your abdomen.
Recurring diarrhea can lead to dehydration, malnutrition, and undesired weight loss. Even symptoms that seem more minor can lead to risky complications.
Risk Factors & Causes of Colon Spasms
What causes colon spasms? Although we don’t know the exact mechanism of why colon spasms happen (much like hiccups), we do know what precursors you can look for.
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 irritable bowel syndrome. But they are not one in the same.
Is irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) different from colon spasms?
IBS is a primary cause of colon spasms. However, colon spasms can be triggered by other health conditions. It’s a square equals rectangle situation.
The similar phrase “spastic colon” is an outdated term meaning IBS.
Home Remedies for Colon Spasms
How do you treat colon spasms? First, it’s good to know there are at-home treatments you can employ to reduce colon spasms.
There are a couple simple lifestyle changes you can make in your everyday life that will most likely vastly improve any colon spasms you are experiencing.
Managing stress lowers your risk of IBS and other health problems that can trigger colon spasms.
Stress has been shown to negatively affect gut health.
Meditation or yoga are surefire ways to alleviate the chronic stress from everyday life.
A full night’s sleep is a great way to reduce stress and 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.
Regular exercise can normalize digestive diseases.
Low to moderate intensity exercise is shown to attenuate symptoms of IBS, such as spasms of the colon. Recent research continues to support the idea that physical activity can regulate your bowel habits.
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
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 carbs 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 colon spasms? Here are foods to avoid:
- High-FODMAP foods — Avoiding 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, corn, shellfish, soybeans, eggs, peanuts, and tree nuts.
- Excess alcohol — Alcohol use disorder increases risk of IBS, and of 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 Treatments for Colon Spasms
There are also times when you should see a doctor for colon spasms. When you go to get your digestive system checked out, diagnosis might include stool or blood tests, x-rays, or possibly a colonoscopy.
If you believe your colon spasms are caused by IBS, we always run a SIBO test on our incoming patients. At PrimeHealth Denver, we find most cases of IBS are triggered by small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, abbreviated as SIBO.
Here at PrimeHealth, we will work with each patient to identify which of the many IBS triggers a patient is dealing with.
When you visit your doctor, here are some of the medical treatment options they may suggest or prescribe:
- 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 of IBS with constipation, a doctor might suggest a laxative. This is not the most efficient treatment since it might not treat all the symptoms, like bloating and stomach pain.
Many of the pharmaceuticals may come with undesirable side effects. Starting with home remedies like stress management and the low-FODMAP diet should serve you better.
If your doctor is able to diagnose the root cause of your colon spasms, treating the cause instead of the symptom should get rid of colon spasms as well as any health problems you didn’t know about.
If you live in the greater Denver area, please schedule an appointment with us. At PrimeHealth, we work with patients to determine underlying triggers of your colon spasms. And our treatment options are low on side effects and high on patient satisfaction.
When should you see the 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
- 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.
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