Normal digestion for healthy adults usually takes 24-72 hours. The undigested portion of the food starts getting eliminated through the colon normally after 24 hours. But due to certain factors, this process becomes way too slow causing severe delay in the excretion of feces through the colon. This is known as colonic inertia. This condition is characterized by the malfunctioning of either the muscles or nerves of the colon.
Why Do You Have Colonic Inertia?
» Experts are not sure what exactly triggers or causes the nerves or muscles of the colon to malfunction. However, factors that may contribute to the occurrence of this problem include:
- A sedentary lifestyle
- A diet lacking in fiber
- Inadequate intake of water
- Stress and hormonal changes such as in pregnancy
» Equally contributing factors could be regular use of medicines such as narcotic pain killers, antidepressants, drugs to prevent convulsions, and certain supplements.
The most prominent symptom of colonic inertia is severe constipation. This is because the colon holds on to the fecal matter longer than normal making it dry and hard. This makes the stool difficult to be expelled. This in turn triggers other discomforts like bloating, gas, abdominal distension, vomiting, nausea, and abdominal cramps.
Symptoms may differ from one individual to the other, and may not occur at one time. Some of these symptoms may mimic those of other medical problems, especially that of the digestive system.
Colonic inertia has a symptomatic treatment as its underlying cause is not known. However, doctors may rule out other conditions which may be associated with it, and treat them if necessary. But most importantly, the treatment involves a few changes in diet and lifestyle.
✔ The first measure is a high-fiber diet. The diet must include vegetables, fresh fruits, beans, and whole grains. Meat products, dairy products, processed foods, foods high in fat and sugar, snacks like chips and pizza, etc., must be avoided. The recommended amount of fiber a healthy adult must consume a day is 20 to 35 grams.
✔ The second measure is to get regular exercise. Exercise helps stimulate bowel movements, and keeps the digestive system in shape. Even walking for 30-35 minutes daily provides a great deal of help in managing conditions like colonic inertia and constipation.
✔ If colonic inertia does not respond to conservative treatment methods, then surgery is recommended. In the surgery, the affected part of the colon is removed. In some cases, most of the colon may be removed and the small intestine may be attached directly to the rectum. This is known as total colectomy. This surgical procedure is known to relieve colonic inertia in almost all patients.
✔ People who still experience symptoms of colonic inertia even after a colectomy, may be recommended to undergo an ileostomy. It is a surgical procedure wherein, the lowest part of the small intestine (called the ileum) is drawn out onto the surface of the belly (usually the lower right side of the abdomen) through an incision, forming a stoma. After the surgery, intestinal waste passes out the stoma and is collected in an external pouch stuck to the skin.
Given the idiopathic nature of colonic inertia, there is no specific way to prevent it. However, its risks could be reduced by eating a high-fiber diet, taking low-fiber foods in moderation, drinking plenty of fluids, inculcating regular exercise, and taking fiber supplements. Also, try not to delay the urge to have a bowel movement. Even this is one common cause of constipation as the stool becomes hard and dry by staying longer in the colon. Laxatives are safe when used sparingly. This is because, once they become habit-forming, the user requires larger doses in order to have a bowel movement, eventually leading to intestinal distress and problems.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader.It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.