The colon is the final part of the digestive system in humans. It is an area where the remaining waste material is stored as feces before being removed via defecation. Having a distended colon refers to this part of the digestive tract becoming enlarged, sometimes enormously. This increase in size can exert pressure on the walls of the intestine, leading to paralysis of normal digestive movements. When this lack of movement occurs, feces do not move ahead. Instead, they form a hard mass that may lead to constipation.
A distended colon is a common cause of intestinal obstruction that may require medical assistance right away, depending on the severity. If a severe case of distension were to be left untreated, there is a real possibility of bowel perforation, leading the contents of the bowels to be expelled into the abdominal cavity. This causes life-threatening problems.
The digestive system is a complex array of organs all involved in digesting food. Because there are so many different subsystems involved, it leaves open the possibility for part of the system to become negatively affected. This can result in a chain reaction affecting the function of other digestive processes. A distended colon can be one of these negative processes, with the following being potential causes:
Hirschsprung’s disease: A congenital disease that results in missing nerve cells in the infant’s colon, restricting digestive movement. Waste and fecal matter often accumulate, leading to swelling of the colon with symptoms commonly appearing within three days after birth.
Pseudo-intestinal obstruction: A condition that commonly occurs in those suffering from Parkinson’s or Kawasaki disease that leads to decreased intestinal motility.
Ulcerative colitis and pseudomembranous colitis: Two inflammatory bowel diseases that can result in a distended colon.
Poisoning: This may be due to taking large doses of purgatives for many years and can result in dilatation and immobility of the colon.
Tumor/excess fecal matter/round worms: Can be the cause of a distended colon.
Cramping: One of the most common symptoms of a distended colon, cramping is largely due to effects that inflammation has on the muscles of the intestinal wall. When the muscle begins to spasm, you will feel a sudden cramping sensation.
Swelling: Essentially a requirement for a distended colon, the increased size creates an internal pressure that can feel like bloating in your abdomen region. This may also be appreciated as stomach pain.
Constipation: Often goes hand in hand with a distended colon, as processes like inflammation can cause the colon to move stool very slowly through the digestive tract. This often results in a delayed rate of stool passage with stool becoming much harder and drying due to staying longer in the digestive tract.
Diarrhea: While constipation is commonly associated with a distended colon, some individuals do experience diarrhea. Some cases of bowel inflammation cause the colon to contract more than it relaxes, moving your stool through the intestines at a faster rate. Because your bowel has less time to solidify your feces, they often come out in liquid form.
Nausea: The digestive system is an intricate network of cells of varying types. Some of these cells are responsible for sending signals to other parts of the body.
Fever: Not a common symptom of a distended colon but may be present in cases of severe illness.
Treating the underlying cause of a distended colon is the main form of treatment. This would require visiting a doctor to get an accurate diagnosis of your discomforting digestive symptoms.
Lifestyle changes in diet and physical activity are often implemented in minor cases of distended colon. Inflammatory bowel conditions will require the use of prescription medication to help control symptoms and allow the bowels to heal. Congenital conditions such as Hirschsprung’s disease will require surgery to allow the intestines to move appropriately.