What You Need to Know About Spastic Colon

Medically Reviewed By Youssef (Joe) Soliman, MD
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A spastic colon occurs when the muscles in the colon tighten atypically. It can cause abdominal pain, bloating, and diarrhea. Many factors can contribute to a spastic colon, including stress, irritable bowel syndrome, and ulcerative colitis. Other names for a spastic colon are irritable colon, mucus colitis, nervous colon, and spastic bowel.

This section explains a spastic colon, including its causes and symptoms. It also details treatments for the condition.

What is a spastic colon?

A woman lying in bed holding her lower stomach
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Contractions in the colon’s muscular walls are why solid waste can move out of the body. However, when a spastic colon develops, contractions occur suddenly and more frequently.

These contractions can cause changes in your bowel habits. A spastic colon is not a disease but a symptom of other conditions.

The colon is the longest part of the large intestine and a key part of the digestive system. It performs many important functions, including:

  • reabsorbing water, nutrients, and electrolytes from partially digested food
  • secreting mucus to bind and lubricate solid waste
  • facilitating the transfer of solid waste or stool to the rectum

What are the causes of a spastic colon?

Several conditions can cause a spastic colon.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

IBS affects your digestive system. It’s one of the main causes of a spastic colon. It also causes abdominal pain, diarrhea, and constipation.

Experts do not know the exact cause of IBS. However, they believe that brain-gut interaction, mental distress, and other factors may play a role.

Treatment focuses on easing symptoms and may include fiber supplements, increased physical activity, and serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).

Learn more about IBS.

Stress 

Stress can contribute to abdominal pain and altered bowel movements, according to research from 2017. It can also increase your risk of IBS, according to the same study.

Causes of stress include chronic health conditions, working for extended periods, and anxiety.

If you are consistently under stress, your doctor may recommend stress management exercises, such as yoga and meditation.

Ulcerative colitis (UC)

UC develops when atypical immune reactions cause inflammation and sores in the inner lining of your large intestine. It commonly causes a spastic colon, abdominal pain, and bloody stools.

Researchers are uncertain about the exact cause of these immune reactions. However, genetics and environmental factors may be involved.

Treatment can include immunosuppressants and surgery.

Learn more about UC.

Crohn’s disease

Crohn’s disease causes inflammation of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Common symptoms include colon spasms, abdominal cramping, and weight loss. 

It’s unclear what causes the condition. However, genetics and immune system problems may be factors.

Your doctor may give you corticosteroids and antibiotics if you have the condition.

Learn more about Crohn’s disease.

Intestinal obstruction

An intestinal or bowel obstruction occurs when something blocks your intestines. The blockage can prevent digested products from passing through your intestine. It can also cause a spastic colon, a lack of appetite, and nausea.

Several factors can contribute to intestinal obstruction, including tumors, damaged blood vessels, and hernias. 

Treatment includes IV rehydration and surgery.

Learn more about intestinal obstructions.

Endometriosis 

Endometriosis occurs when tissue similar to the lining of the uterus forms outside the uterus. It commonly affects women in their 30s and 40s, according to the Office on Women’s Health

Symptoms include painful periods, excessive bleeding, colon spasms, and constipation. Doctors often use pain relievers and hormone therapy to treat the condition.

Learn more about endometriosis.

What are the symptoms of a spastic colon?

A spastic colon commonly causes abdominal pain and bloating. It also causes a feeling of fullness in the rectum. The severity of these symptoms can vary depending on the underlying factor.

Other related symptoms may include:

  • cramping
  • mucus in the stool
  • changes in bowel habits, such as diarrhea and constipation 
  • loose stool 
  • a sudden need to have a bowel movement

Contact your doctor if you have concerning symptoms.

How do doctors diagnose a spastic colon?

To diagnose a spastic colon, your doctor will review your symptoms and medical history. They may also perform a physical exam of your rectum.

Additional diagnostic tests may include:

  • Colonoscopy: Your doctor will use a small, flexible tube to examine your colon. The results will show whether there are any underlying factors.
  • CT scan: This will photograph your abdomen and pelvis. It can help rule out other conditions.
  • Blood test: Your doctor will take a small sample of your blood for microscopic analysis. The test may reveal whether an infection is causing your symptoms.
  • Stool sample culture test: This will study a sample of your stool for signs of infection and other digestive problems.

What are the treatments for a spastic colon?

Treatments for a spastic colon aim to address the root cause. They will also seek to provide relief from symptoms.

Methods include:

  • increasing your fiber intake to boost digestive health 
  • eating a low fat diet to reduce colon irritation
  • performing relaxation techniques, such as meditation, to reduce stress
  • exercising to boost the health of your GI tract 
  • avoiding smoking and alcohol to reduce digestive problems 

Other treatments may include:

What is the outlook for people with a spastic colon?

A spastic colon can cause pain and discomfort. However, it’s usually not a serious or life threatening condition.

The condition may respond to at-home remedies, such as fiber supplements and increased physical activity.

If you have the condition, try to follow your doctor’s treatment plan as closely as possible for prompt recovery.

Can you prevent a spastic colon?

These practices may help you reduce your risk of a spastic colon:

  • increasing your fiber intake 
  • limiting your fat intake
  • managing stress
  • avoiding smoking and alcohol

Talk with your doctor before making any dietary changes.

Other frequently asked questions

These are a few other common questions about spastic colons. Dr. Joe Soliman has reviewed the answers.

What triggers a spastic colon?

Chronic conditions may cause a spastic colon, including IBS, UC, and endometriosis. Other factors, such as stress or bowel obstruction, may also contribute.

How do you calm a spastic colon?

Depending on the underlying cause, you may be able to calm a spastic colon by taking antispasmodic medications, increasing your fiber intake, or managing your stress.

Summary

A spastic colon is when the muscles in the intestines tighten atypically. Causes include stress, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and ulcerative colitis. 

People with a spastic colon may experience abdominal pain and bloating. They may also experience changes in their bowel movements, including diarrhea and constipation.

Doctors often diagnose a spastic colon by reviewing your symptoms and medical history. They may also conduct a physical exam and some lab tests.

Treatments include managing stress, increasing fiber intake, and adopting a low fat diet.

Make an appointment with your doctor if you have symptoms of a spastic colon.

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Medical Reviewer: Youssef (Joe) Soliman, MD
Last Review Date: 2022 Oct 14
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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