What is a spastic colon?

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Spastic colon is an early term used to describe a health condition that is now known as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) . The term spastic colon originated from the belief that the motor problems and abdominal pain associated with IBS are caused by muscle spasms in the colon. Health professionals now know that the mechanisms underlying IBS are much more complex.

If you have been told that you have or simply think you have a spastic colon, it may be helpful to learn more about irritable bowel syndrome.

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Irritable bowel syndrome

IBS is what is known as a functional gastrointestinal disorder . This means that there is something wrong with the functioning of the digestive system, but no visible signs of disease are seen during diagnostic tests. IBS is diagnosed after your healthcare provider has ruled out other conditions. IBS subtypes are based on changes in bowel movements and a predominance of constipation, diarrhea, or mixed bowel movements.

Symptoms of IBS

People with IBS experience a variety of symptoms related to colon function. This means they are experiencing chronic constipation or urgent bouts of diarrhea. Many people begin to alternate between two bathroom problems. Other symptoms include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Gas and bloating
  • Feeling of incomplete evacuation
  • Mucus in stool

If you experience any of these symptoms, you should see your doctor. Many other more serious disorders share the same symptoms. It is important that you receive the correct diagnosis so that you can make a proper treatment plan.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome Doctor Discussion Guide

Get our printed guide to your next doctor's appointment to help you ask the right questions.

What Causes a Spastic Colon?

While no one knows exactly why some people get IBS, there is now much more information about what could have gone wrong. These are some of the problems that have been identified as possible causes:

  • Motility problems: functioning of the muscles of the colon, including the speed and force of intestinal contractions.
  • Visceral hypersensitivity – a more severe than usual painful reaction to pressure in the colon.
  • Brain-gut communication: the role of the nervous system, including changes in the levels of neurotransmitters and hormones.
  • Inflammation: Although there is no visible inflammation in IBS by definition, there are indications that the inflammation may not be visible.
  • Intestinal bacteria: an imbalance between the "friendly" and "unfriendly" bacteria that make up the intestinal flora.

One of the reasons IBS is so difficult to understand and treat is because it can be caused by a number of different factors. You can see that researchers have come a long way from flagging intestinal cramps as a problem.

IBS treatment

There is no single cure for IBS. Instead, your healthcare provider may recommend a variety of options, including:

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