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Causes of Inflammation of the Colon

The term 'colon' refers to the large intestine, and inflammation of the colon is referred to as colitis. This HealthHearty write-up provides information on the contributing factors, symptoms, and treatment options for this medical condition.
Suketu Mehta
Last Updated: Apr 9, 2018
A part of the gastrointestinal tract, the large intestine consists of the colon and the rectum. The main function of the colon is to absorb the water and other undigested food particles, which are then moved along the length of the colon through peristalsis. The waste matter that is stored in the form of feces, passes out of the body through the anus. The large intestine could get inflamed due to overgrowth of pathogens. Besides infection, other medical conditions could be responsible for causing the inflammation of the inner lining of the colon.
Ulcerative colitis is a type of inflammatory bowel disease that is characterized by the formation of ulcers in the inner lining of the large intestine. When the entire colon is affected, it is called universal colitis. When the rectum and the sigmoid colon gets inflamed, one is diagnosed with proctosigmoiditis. When only the rectum gets inflamed, the condition is called ulcerative proctitis. Inflammatory bowel disease also includes Crohn's disease, which is characterized by inflammation in any part of the gastrointestinal tract. Ileocolitis (inflammation of the ileum and the colon) and Crohn's (granulomatous) colitis are types of Crohn's disease wherein the colon gets inflamed. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is another disorder that affects the large intestine.
Contributing Factors
One of the causes of colitis is the overgrowth of infectious agents. At times, there could be an imbalance of microbial flora of the large intestine. The number of beneficial bacteria that live in the gastrointestinal tract could decline when the immune system gets compromised due to illnesses or excessive use of antibiotics. Some of the pathogens that could cause inflammation of the large intestine include Campylobacter, Shigella, E. coli, Yersinia, Salmonella, and Clostridium difficile. The infection could result from the consumption of contaminated food or water. At times, the inflammation could occur due to damage to the epithelial tissue of the colon. Colitis could also occur if the mucosa layer of the colon is infiltrated by leukocytes. The exact cause of ulcerative colitis is not known. It is believed that genes, environmental factors, or the immune system might be involved.
Colitis naturally has an adverse effect on the bowel movement. The common symptoms might include:
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Blood
  • Pain while passing stools
  • Abdominal pain
  • Gas
  • Fever
  • Body ache
  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Constant fatigue
Diagnosis and Treatment
To diagnose this disease, the doctor may ask you to undergo a blood and a stool test which will help him to identify abnormalities in the colon. Colonoscopy and Sigmoidoscopy are widely used methods, by which the doctor gets a clear picture of the condition of the colon. In these methods the doctor inserts a small, specially designed telescope through the patient's anus and views the interior of the colon and the rectum to detect inflammation. The doctor may also take tissue samples of the intestine.
The treatment varies from person to person, and mostly depends on the extent to which the inflammation has progressed. There are no specific medicines to treat or cure the disease. Mostly doctors prescribe medicines which minimize the effects of this disease. If at all, the condition of the person worsens, and medication alone is not sufficient to control the inflammation, then surgery is suggested.
Drugs such as 5-ASA compounds and corticosteroids might be prescribed to reduce the inflammation. These drugs are usually prescribed for mild cases. These drugs tend to suppress the inflammation and keep it at minimum possible level. When aminosalicylates, antibiotics, or corticosteroids are unable to provide relief, immunosuppresants are prescribed. This refers to a class of drugs that suppress the immune system.
In severe cases, where drug therapy is not providing the desired results, surgery might be recommended. In some cases, affected portions of the colon are removed, and the remaining healthy sections are attached. At times, the surgeon may perform ileostomy, wherein a small opening is created in the abdomen. The waste matter, which is expelled through the opening./stoma, is drained into a pouch that is fitted to the opening. In case of ileoanal anastomosis, the surgeon constructs a pouch from the end of the small intestine. The pouch is attached directly to your anus. This surgery allows one to expel waste normally. In cases where parts of the colon have become narrow, strictureplasty is performed. In this surgery, the surgeon widens a segment of the intestine that has become too narrow.
It is believed that inflammation of the colon could put one at a risk of developing colon cancer. However, this may happen in rare cases. In case of people affected by inflammatory bowel disease, the goal of the treatment is to induce and maintain remission, and improve the quality of life of the patient. Affected individuals should also follow the dietary guidelines suggested by their healthcare provider.
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.