Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, MD, FFARCSI

What is Spastic Colon?

Spastic colon is nothing but an alternative term for IBS or Irritable Bowel Syndrome. In this condition, the patient experiences abdominal pain, cramping in the abdomen, a feeling of bloating and also diarrhea and constipation. A person, who has spastic colon, will experience an increase in the motility or the spontaneous contractions of large and small intestinal muscles, known as the colon. As these short and continuous contractions are generally called spasms, the increased contractions of the colon are sometimes referred to as spastic colon.

However, it is not always correct to refer to the contractions of the colon as spastic colon. This is because IBS is not always associated with increased contractions. Sometimes, IBS is also associated with decreased spasms in the colon. In that case calling IBS as spastic colon is inaccurate.

What is Spastic Colon?

Causes of Spastic Colon

The exact cause behind the spasms or contractions of the colon or the intestines is not clearly known. However, the network of nerves or the nervous system that connects your digestive system with the brain may be the reason. Any abnormality in this nervous system and poorly coordinated signals may cause the spasms and the contractions in the intestine. When the nervous system sends poorly coordinated signals to the brain, the body overreacts to usual and normal changes that occur in the digestive system or the intestine all the time. As a consequence, the body experiences pain, cramps and bloating in this region. Constipation and diarrhoea are also results of this.

The intestinal walls are lined with muscles that contract in order to move food particulars through the digestive tract. When, due to abnormal signally between the nerves of your digestive system, rather the intestines and the brain, the muscles of the intestine either contract too fast or slow down the contractions. When the contractions are increased, it leads to formation of gas, a feeling of bloating and diarrhoea. If the contractions are decreased, it leads to the formation of dry and hard stool, commonly known as constipation.

Symptoms of Spastic Colon

The symptoms of spastic colon vary to a great extent from person to person. However, the most common symptoms of spastic colon are –

  • Abdominal cramping
  • Abdominal pain
  • Bloating
  • Diarrhoea
  • Constipation
  • Excessive gas formation
  • Fatigue
  • Mucus discharge through stool.

Sometimes the cramps and pain associated with spastic colon are serious and sometimes they are mild. In fact, these spastic colon symptoms may worsen or improve from time to time or completely disappear. Sometimes, the symptoms are worsened by emotional stress. In case of women, menstrual cycle sometimes trigger the condition. Also, it should be mentioned that the cramp and the pain is relieved after defecation.

Triggers of Spastic Colon

Although the exact cause of spastic colon is not known, there are some triggers that are recognised that most people with IBS or spastic colon are sensitive to. These are –

  • Certain medicines
  • Eating large meals
  • Wheat, barley and rye food products
  • Dairy products
  • Chocolate
  • Caffeinated drinks like tea, coffee and soda
  • Alcohol and drinks with alcohol content
  • Emotional distress
  • Menstruation in women or hormonal changes.

All these factors only aggravate the condition and do not cause it.

Diagnosis for Spastic Colon

Before treating spastic colon, it is important to diagnose the condition as IBS and not any other serious health condition that is causing the diarrhoea or constipation and the other symptoms. To make this sure, the doctor will run some tests to rule out the other common possibilities that yield similar symptoms. The tests that help in this are –

  • Hemoccult tests that tests the presence of blood in the stool.
  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy that tests the lower intestine and the rectum to check for the presence of any abnormality through a two feet long tube that has a camera and a light attached at the tip.
  • Colonoscopy test that uses a similar tool and technology like flexible sigmoidoscopy, but is meant for checking the entire upper intestine.
  • Barium enema X-ray test to check for any abnormalities in the colon through an X-ray test.

If none of these tests come out positive, the doctor will likely diagnose your condition as IBS, if –

  • You have suffered from abdominal pain and cramps for at least 3 months in the previous year
  • Or, at least one day of abdominal pain in a week for the last 3 months
  • Your abdominal pain is relieved with bowel movement
  • The consistency, appearance and frequency of your bowel movement changes.

Treatment for Spastic Colon

Once it has been diagnosed that the condition you are suffering from is spastic colon, it is time for the treatment. There are a number of treatments and therapies available for controlling and reducing the pain, cramps and other symptoms associated with spastic colon. These would include –

Medicines for Spastic Colon:

The doctor would prescribe certain medicines such as –

Antispasmodics: These medicines help in controlling the cramps and spasms that come from the gut. Atropine and Dicycloverine are the most common ones. The doctor may also prescribe muscle relaxants such as Mebeverine and Alverine.

Antidepressants: The antidepressants are a different approach of treating the symptoms of spastic colon. There are a number of these and which one is suitable for you, is best determined by the doctor.

However, here it must be mentioned that people with enlarged prostate or pregnant women or women who are breastfeeding, cannot be given these medicines. They will have to depend on alternative treatments, take preventive measures and avoid the triggers.

Diet, Foods to Avoid and Lifestyle Changes:

Change in your diet and lifestyle along with stress management and mental health counselling alone can treat or control a number of signs and symptoms of spastic colon or IBS. The changes that need to be made are –

Reduction or stopping the consumption of gluten such as wheat, barley or rye. Research studies have proven that people with spastic colon or IBS, who suffer from diarrhoea, have experienced an improvement in their condition, once they stopped including gluten in their diet for spastic colon. This was the case even when the subjects didn’t suffer from celiac disease.

  • If you suffer from constipation, occasional intake of laxatives and fibre supplements is also proven to be useful.
  • Diet rich in fibre such as cereals, legumes, vegetables, fruits and whole grain breads can help people suffering from spastic colon.
  • Do not eat large meals, but several smaller meals throughout the day.
  • Do light yoga, cardio and other breathing exercises to manage your emotional and physical triggers. However, while doing this, do not stress yourself as this will only worsen the condition of spastic colon. In fact, not just exercise, but any activity that can cause stress, should be avoided.
  • Include prescribed probiotics in your regular diet. Certain probiotics are proven to be very useful in relieving the cramps and pain from spastic colon.
  • Include peppermint in your diet as this has shown to relax the intestinal muscles.
  • These simple dietary changes and lifestyle changes will help in controlling, managing and reducing the signs and symptoms of spastic colon.

Alternative Treatment for Spastic Colon

Since, stress is one of the biggest reasons behind the severity of the cramps and the abdominal pains, alternative treatments such as relaxation training or mental health counselling are very useful. The most useful and common alternative treatment or therapies for spastic colon are –

  • Mindfulness training that will help you to have a better understanding of your feelings
  • Hypnosis in which a trained professional helps you to enter a state of relaxation and help you relax your abdominal muscles
  • Acupuncture to relieve off stress.

With all these treatment methods, alternative therapies and dietary and lifestyle changes, you will surely feel changes in your condition and live a better, more comfortable life.

Also Read:

Pramod Kerkar

Written, Edited or Reviewed By:

, MD,FFARCSI

Pain Assist Inc.

Last Modified On: September 20, 2018

This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer

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