Spastic colon or irritable bowel syndrome is a functional disorder of the colon or the large intestine. This condition is usually managed with dietary and lifestyle modifications, and certain medications that can alleviate or reduce the severity of the symptoms. The treatment options available for this condition, and its causes and symptoms are briefly discussed in this HealthHearty article.
Spastic colon is the another name of irritable bowel syndrome, which is a gastrointestinal disorder. The term spastic colon means an increase in the spontaneous contractions of the muscles of the large intestine, or their spasms. However, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can also cause a decrease in the contractions of the large intestinal muscles. IBS is generally classified as a functional gastrointestinal disorder, as it is associated with how the intestine works, and not with any kind of damage to the intestinal tissues.
IBS is characterized by abdominal pain or cramps, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea. In some people, diarrhea can be prominent, while in others, it could be constipation. Some individuals on the other hand, can suffer from alternating periods of constipation and diarrhea. However, IBS does not cause inflammation of the bowel tissues, or inflammatory bowel disease like Crohn’s disease or colitis. IBS is usually not considered to be a life-threatening condition, though it can affect the quality of life considerably.
Causes and Symptoms of IBS
» Despite all the research carried out, the causes of IBS or spastic colon are not well-understood. Researchers are of the opinion that a range of factors can trigger this condition. In IBS, the contractions of the intestinal muscles can be much stronger, and they can last longer than usual, which in turn can cause food to move through the intestine much faster. This can cause gas, bloating, and diarrhea. The opposite can also occur, and food can remain in the intestine for a long time. As a result, the stool can become hard and difficult to pass.
» Factors that are believed to play an important role in the development of this condition are, a problem in the brain-gut signal (which controls the functioning of the intestine), gastroenteritis, bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine, sensitivity of the colon to certain food, stress, psychological problems, and changes in the levels of neurotransmitters that transmit nerve signals between the brain and the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Even hormonal imbalance has been suspected to be associated with IBS, as this condition is more prevalent in women, and its symptoms often aggravate before or during menstruation.
The hallmark of IBS is abdominal cramps or pain, which is often relieved with bowel movement. Apart from this, spastic colon can produce the following signs and symptoms:
✧ Diarrhea, constipation, or alternating periods of diarrhea and constipation
✧ Changes in the consistency of stool and the frequency of bowel movements
✧ Bloating, abdominal distension, and flatulence
✧ Presence of mucus in the stool
Treatment of Spastic Colon
There are no specific tests or examinations to diagnose spastic colon or IBS. Rather, the diagnosis is based on exclusion, i.e., physicians try to rule out the possibility of other medical conditions that can produce similar discomforts. So, a physician can carry out a number of tests, including laboratory studies, imaging tests like CT scan and X-rays, and endoscopy of the lower GI tract, in order to diagnose this condition. Along with these, a physician can evaluate the medical history of the patient and his or her family, before coming to any conclusion.
The treatment of IBS can vary from one person to another, as each individual can have a different set of triggers that can worsen the symptoms. This gastrointestinal disorder has no cure. But it is possible to manage IBS, and reduce the severity of its symptoms. In general, dietary and lifestyle modifications can help prevent IBS and alleviate its symptoms. The following are the most important treatment options for managing IBS.
People with spastic colon are often required to make some dietary changes to manage this condition. In general, it has been observed that the inclusion of more fiber-rich foods in the diet can help reduce the frequency of IBS attacks. Though the foods that trigger IBS can be different for different individuals, patients of IBS are usually advised to limit the consumption of those foods that can stimulate the intestine. Some such foods are:
✧ Milk and dairy products
✧ Fatty foods
✧ Foods rich in sugar
✧ Artificial sweeteners like sorbitol and xylitol
Apart from these, some people may get relief from excessive gas, bloating, and flatulence by avoiding or reducing the consumption of the following foods:
✧ Brussels sprouts
✧ Beans and legumes
Patients of IBS should eat smaller meals instead of three large meals, and drink plenty of water throughout the day. However, they should avoid sodas and soft drinks.
Regular physical activity has been found to reduce the severity of IBS symptoms in many patients. Exercise can improve the quality of life and mental and physical well-being. Low impact exercises like walking, swimming, and cycling can prove immensely helpful in reducing the frequency and severity of spastic colon.
Stress is an important trigger for IBS. To manage the level of stress, you can take the help of stress management techniques like meditation and yoga. Regular physical activity can also boost your mental health by reducing the level of stress. Even a hobby or an activity that you love to do can help you deal with a stressful situation.
» Apart from dietary modifications and exercise, medications can be required at times to manage symptoms like constipation, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps. Usually, a fiber-rich diet and adequate fluid intake should help alleviate constipation. If these simple remedies fail to ensure regular bowel movements, then laxatives may be required. Examples of some commonly used laxatives are:
✧ Milk of magnesia
The long-term use of laxatives is however not recommended, as they can cause dependence, or loss of normal bowel function.
» The medications that are specifically used for treating diarrhea are:
✧ Bile acid-binding agents
» Severe abdominal pain and cramps may require anticholinergic drugs and dicyclomine. Anticholinergics are antispasmodic medications, that help reduce the sensitivity of the colon to stress and certain specific foods. The common antispasmodic agents used for the treatment of IBS are:
✧ Pro-Banthine (propantheline)
» Antidepressant medications can also be prescribed, if the patient experiences depression along with abdominal pain. These drugs can increase pain tolerance, and treat depression and anxiety experienced by the patients of spastic colon. Two other medications that are specifically used for IBS treatment are, alosetron and lubiprostone. Alosetron is a nerve receptor antagonist that can relax the colon, and slow down the movement of waste through it.
» But alosetron can cause some serious complications, for which it was removed from the market soon after its approval. Presently, the FDA has permitted the use of this drug with certain restrictions. It can be prescribed by doctors enrolled in a special program. They can prescribe the drug for treating severe IBS in women. This drug is not approved for use by men. Lubiprostone on the other hand, is usually recommended for men and women having IBS with constipation. It is a chloride channel activator that can increase fluid secretion in the small intestine.
Most of the medications used for treating spastic colon can cause several side effects, for which their daily and long-term use is usually not recommended. People with IBS should strictly avoid taking medications without consulting their health care providers. They should take medications only under the supervision of their physicians.
Disclaimer: This article is for informative purposes only, and should not be treated as a substitute for professional medical advice.