colon spasms

What causes painful colon spasms? Symptoms and treatment options

Colon spasms are a health problem experienced by many Americans. People who have spasms in the colon often describe it as a sudden, severe contraction of the colon muscles. The spasms usually occur as a result of an underlying health condition.

The colon essentially refers to the large intestine. It is one of the parts of the digestive system that forms, stores, and excretes feces. A colon spasm can be physically and emotionally troubling. Those who suffer from spasms in the colon often cut themselves off from family and friends because they never know when an attack will strike or when they will suddenly need to run to the washroom.

Colon spasms and the accompanying abdominal pain are often associated with irritable bowel syndrome; however, there are various symptoms and different reasons for the spastic condition.

What are the symptoms of colon spasms?

Symptoms of colon spasms can include bowel movement changes. When longitudinal colon muscles spasms happen, diarrhea often occurs; however, when circular muscle spasms take place, constipation happens. People who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome can have diarrhea or constipation, and some alternate between the two problems. Below is a list of other potential colon spasms symptoms:

  • Pain: This tends to occur in the lower abdomen, particularly on the left side. The pain can happen anytime day or night.
  • Gas and or bloating: Some people have gas all day long, everyday
  • Mucus: Those with IBS often notice mucus in their stools
  • Varied stool consistency: From semisolid to liquid, or even hard pellets with mucus.
  • Heartburn: Some people experience typical signs of heartburn
  • Headache: This can be due to the stress of the condition
  • Increased urination: There are cases where people with colon spasms also experience the need to frequently urinate.

Research suggests that many people who suffer from colon spasms also have a lot of stress in their lives. Often these people notice that their symptoms are less severe when the stress is eliminated.

Related: Headache and constipation: Does constipation cause headaches? Treatment and prevention

What are the causes of spasms in the colon?

Colon spasms happen when the muscle contracts in an uncoordinated way. Just what causes colon spasms remains a mystery, but we do know that anxiety and stress impact the function of our intestinal system. We also know that physical activity, diet, and certain drugs can lead to changes in gut movement. Our intestinal system is a complex mechanism and the colon plays a very crucial part in it. When something goes wrong with the colon, it can have a big impact on our health.

The following list outlines the different possible colon spasm causes:


Irritable bowel syndrome is a condition that impacts millions of Americans and is characterized by either extreme diarrhea or constipation. Symptoms also include colon spasms.

Ulcerative colitis

This is an inflammatory bowel disease that causes inflammation and ulcers in the digestive tract. Bleeding, diarrhea, and spasms are common with this condition.

Crohn’s disease

Like IBS, Crohn’s involves diarrhea, and it can be so severe that it leads to loss of nutrients. It can be difficult to diagnose, but when it is found, it is often treated with anti-spasmodic medications.

Related: Crohn’s disease natural treatment with home remedies

Trapped gas

Some people simply have colon spasms because they have severe gas. Trapped gas causes spasms in the colon wall and the ligaments that hold the colon in place.

Distended colon

This means that part of the digestive tract has become enlarged, which can put pressure on the walls of the intestine and lead to constipation. Along with constipation, spasms can occur.

Bowel/intestinal obstruction

An intestinal obstruction can happen when the small or large intestine is blocked. A partial or total blockage can prevent the passage of fluids and digested food. If enough fluid builds up, the intestine can rupture, which is a life-threatening situation.

Bacterial gastroenteritis

When bacteria causes infection in the gut, it is called bacterial gastroenteritis. It can be caused by food poisoning.


This is a condition affecting the reproductive organs; however, it can spread to the bowels. If the bowels are involved, the woman will experience spasms, bloating, and diarrhea or constipation.

There is also a rare condition known as pseudo-obstruction that can cause the colon to spasm. The symptoms are similar to an intestinal blockage, but there is no real blockage. It is believed that the problem is due to nerve or muscle problems that impact the movement of food, fluid, and air through the intestines.

How to treat colon spasms?

So, the question is how to get rid of colon spasms. A common colon spasms treatment is increasing fiber in the diet. This can be found in foods like legumes, fruits, and vegetables. Such foods can add bulk to liquid waste material, which reduces spasms. Reducing or cutting out alcohol and cigarettes can also be helpful.
Colon spasm relief is also possible through regular exercise. In many cases, exercise helps lessen anxiety and stress, and as we mentioned, stress can often make symptoms worse. Studies show that vigorous exercise can stimulate endorphins to inhibit pain and anxiety from either physical injury or stress.

While some people are prescribed anti-spasmodic medication that calms muscles, other remedies for colon spasms are more natural. For example, diet goes a long way in helping people with spasms. For some individuals, reducing milk and spicy foods lessens diarrhea, while others do well after eliminating meat from their diet. It is also worth noting that peppermint tea, ginger tea, and chamomile tea have been effective in alleviating colon spasms.

When to see a doctor for colon spasms

A lot of people have a colon spasm from time-to-time, but it is nothing to worry about. In fact, it’s usually related to something that has been consumed. Those who suffer from chronic abdominal pain and other symptoms, as described here, should seek medical attention. While there may be a simple explanation for the discomfort, it is best to get checked out to make sure it isn’t anything serious.

When we have abdominal pain, we tend to fluff it off, but it is a good idea to observe any other symptoms that come along with the pain or spasm. While we aren’t suggesting running off to the doctors for every little ache or pain, we do believe that being more observant can help us identify when something just isn’t right.

Related: Swollen colon: Causes and symptoms


Related Reading:

Sigmoid volvulus: Causes and treatment of twisted sigmoid colon

Twisted bowel (volvulus) in adults: How the bowels twist and how to treat it

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