Spastic colon, or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), is a chronic condition in which the muscles in the intestines contract more often than normal. These contractions, called spasms, cause food to move through a person's intestinal tract too quickly or too slowly. Although symptoms vary from person to person, most people experience bouts of either significant diarrhea or constipation, constant pain in the stomach, and a feeling of bloating. As spasms are not always present in IBS, the term spastic colon is not accurate in all cases.
There are many symptoms of this disorder. An affected person may suffer from painful cramps during bowel movements as well as frequent and strong urges to defecate, even immediately after doing so. There may be mucus in the feces, and a person may alternate between being constipated and having diarrhea. Frequent diarrhea can also lead to dehydration. Other symptoms include fatigue and weight loss.
If a person has had stomach pain and either constant diarrhea or constipation for several months, a medical professional will usually test a blood or a stool sample to rule out other potential causes, like parasitic infections or cancer. He or she will also take a medical history to check for any risk factors, such as a recent viral stomach illness or the use of antibiotics. In certain circumstances, a colonoscopy may be ordered.
Many cases of spastic colon have no known cause. Occasionally, a viral illness can cause similar symptoms, but these usually resolve themselves in three to six months. Parasitic infections can also mimic the symptoms of spastic colon, producing what appears to be IBS with diarrhea. Taking antibiotics may cause an imbalance in the beneficial bacteria of the stomach and intestinal tract, but this typically corrects itself within a few months. Stress and poor diet may also contribute to the development of spastic colon, but generally, only in those with pre-existing IBS.
People with spastic colon may be able to reduce their risk of flare-ups by changing a few behaviors. Medical professionals usually ask people to eat a diet high in fiber, as this can help normalize the bowel process, even in those with significant diarrhea. Most recommend not smoking, eliminating alcohol, and not eating foods with lots of sugar or fat, which can produce diarrhea. Additionally, people with spastic colon are generally told to eat a probiotic diet that contains active yeast cultures, which may help restore balance in the bowel.
There is no cure for this condition, but there are some medications that can treat the symptoms. Some medical professionals suggest laxatives to reduce episodes of constipation and an anti-diarrheal medicine for diarrhea. They may also prescribe sedatives, tranquilizers, or antidepressants, since stress can be a trigger for this condition. Dicyclomine, an antispasmodic medicine, is often prescribed to relieve the pain of stomach cramps. Heating pads, hot baths, and other warm, relaxing treatments can also be soothing.