What Is a Colon Stricture?

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A colon stricture is a narrowing of part of the colon, the organ that forms the large intestine. Strictures can cause a bowel obstruction, hindering your ability to go to the bathroom and eliminate gas and solid waste. They occur in people with colon cancer or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Strictures can often be corrected, but they can be life-threatening if left untreated and block the colon completely.

Read on to learn more about colon strictures, including causes and treatment.

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What Causes a Colon Stricture?

A narrowing in any part of the intestine is a stricture. In the colon, it can be due to inflammation, fibrous or scar tissue, or even cancer.

The most common risk factors for developing a stricture include:

  • Inflammatory bowel disease: Like Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis
  • Adhesions: Bands of scar tissue that may form after surgery
  • Hernias: Tissue that pushes out of a weak place in the wall of the intestine
  • Colon cancer: Tumors in the large intestine
  • Diverticulitis: Pouches in the intestine that become inflamed and swollen
  • Volvulus: When the colon is twisted around itself, often due to a birth defect

Symptoms of a Colon Stricture

The symptoms of colon stricture are similar to many other digestive issues.

If you know you have IBD or another underlying condition that puts you at a higher risk for colon strictures, call your healthcare provider if you note any of the following symptoms:

  • Abdominal pain or swelling
  • Cramping
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Loss of appetite

Diagnosing a Colon Stricture

Your healthcare provider can confirm a colon stricture by doing a physical exam, usually followed by an imaging test. These can include:

These imaging studies can show whether there is a blockage and where it's located in the colon.

If you have an X-ray, you may be given an infusion of a white liquid that coats the colon so healthcare providers can see your anatomy more clearly. It doesn't hurt, and the procedure typically takes about 30 minutes to an hour.

Treatment for Colon Stricture

Treatment for a colon stricture depends on what's causing it and how it is interfering with your digestive process.

If the obstruction is only partially blocking the colon, healthcare providers may be able to put you on a low-fiber diet to see if you can begin to eliminate solid waste.

If dietary changes don't work, or if the stricture is fully blocking the colon, treatments can include:

  • Endoscopy: An endoscopy is a procedure in which a long tube with a camera attached is inserted into the colon. This may allow for endoscopic balloon dilation, endoscopic strictureplasty, or placement of a wire mesh cylinder, called a stent, to keep the intestine open, usually for people with colon cancer.
  • Endoscopic balloon dilation: This procedure preserves the length of the bowel. A balloon is inserted into the colon and is inflated to stretch out the narrowed area. A benefit of this procedure is that it is less invasive than surgery but still highly effective.
  • Strictureplasty: A strictureplasty widens the narrowed area of the colon caused by the stricture. This is most often performed by endoscopic balloon dilation.
  • Colon resection: Surgeons remove the blockage and damaged tissue. You may have to stay in the hospital for a few days and your healthcare team may advise you to make dietary changes.
  • Medication: For inflammatory colon strictures, you may be prescribed steroids to reduce inflammation, followed by a biologic medication that often targets an inflammatory agent in the body to prevent further inflammation.

Complications of Colon Stricture

Colon strictures are often treatable, but they can become serious.

Colon strictures can cut off the blood supply to the intestine. This can cause tissue to weaken and result in a break in the intestinal wall, called a perforation. That can lead to an infection called peritonitis, which is a life-threatening medical emergency. It may need both medical and surgical interventions.

What You Can Do to Prevent Colon Stricture

If you have IBD or another condition that puts you at higher risk for colon stricture, you should follow your medical team's dietary advice very carefully. They may recommend certain vegetables and fruits, potatoes, white bread, soft meats, and fish. Foods to avoid are typically high-fiber foods, tough meats, nuts, and seeds. Monitor your bathroom habits, and if you feel constipated, bloated, or cannot pass gas or have a bowel movement, contact your provider.

Summary

A colon stricture is a narrowing of the colon. Strictures can lead to bowel obstructions, which affect your ability to have bowel movements. They can happen in people with inflammatory bowel disease or cancer. There are various treatment options available, including surgical procedures. Strictures should not be left untreated.

A Word From Verywell

Colon strictures are unpleasant and ignoring them can be dangerous. If you have IBD, you should be on the lookout for associated symptoms to more easily recognize a stricture. If you suspect you have one, contact your healthcare provider to get a diagnosis and begin treatment. Put any embarrassment you may have aside. Medical professionals who treat strictures regularly are there to help.

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3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Cleveland Clinic. Large bowel (intestinal) obstruction. Updated December 21, 2020

  2. Klag T, Wehkamp J, Goetz M. Endoscopic balloon dilation for crohn’s disease-associated stricturesClin Endosc. 2017;50(5):429-436. doi:10.5946/ce.2017.147

  3. Crohn's and Colitis Foundation. Strictureplasty.