What Is Spastic Colon?

Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

Spastic colon is a term sometimes used to describe irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

The term "spastic colon" came from the belief that muscle spasms within the large intestine (colon) caused problems with motility (the movement of food through the gut) and abdominal pain associated with IBS. Healthcare providers now know the mechanisms behind IBS are more complex.

If you have been told you have or think you have a spastic colon, it may be helpful to learn more about IBS. This article provides an overview of spastic colon, including symptoms, triggers and causes, and treatment options.

doctor doing abdominal check on a woman
Universal Images Group / Getty Images

Other Names

Spastic colon is also known as irritable bowel syndrome. It can also be called:

  • IBS
  • Colitis
  • Mucous colitis
  • Nervous colon
  • Spastic bowel
  • Irritable colon

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

IBS is a functional gastrointestinal disorder. This means there's something wrong with how the digestive system functions, but no visible signs of disease show up during diagnostic tests.

IBS is diagnosed after your healthcare provider has ruled out other disorders. The subtypes of IBS are based on changes in bowel movements and whether constipation, diarrhea, or mixed bowel habits are predominant.

Spastic Colon Symptoms

People with IBS experience various symptoms related to the functioning of the large intestine. They may have chronic constipation or urgent bouts of diarrhea. Many people find themselves alternating between the two bowel problems.

Other IBS symptoms include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Gas and bloating
  • A feeling of incomplete evacuation
  • Mucus in the stool

See your healthcare provider if you experience any of these symptoms. Other disorders that may be more serious share similar symptoms. It's important to receive a proper diagnosis so you get the appropriate treatment plan.

IBS Doctor Discussion Guide

Get our printable guide for your next healthcare provider's appointment to help you ask the right questions.

Doctor Discussion Guide Man


No one knows for sure why some people end up with IBS. However, there's much more information on what might have gone wrong than in the past.

Some problems identified as possible causes or triggers include:

  • The brain-gut connection: The role of the nervous system, including changes in the levels of neurotransmitters and hormones, may affect digestive system function and how fast or slow food moves through the digestive tract.
  • Visceral hypersensitivity: A stronger-than-normal pain response to pressure can occur within the large intestine.
  • Gut bacteria: There can be an imbalance between "friendly" and "unfriendly" bacteria in the gut.
  • Inflammation: There's no visible inflammation with IBS, but there may be inflammation that's not visible.
  • Food intolerances and sensitivities: Symptoms may be triggered by specific foods or groups of foods.

Additionally, dietary factors may help improve or worsen inflammation.

A reason why IBS is hard to understand and treat is that several different factors may cause it. You can see that researchers have come a long way from pointing to colon spasms in the gut as being the problem.


There's no one cure for IBS. Instead, there are various options your healthcare provider might recommend for you to try, such as:


The medication your healthcare provider recommends or prescribes will likely be related to the IBS symptoms you have. They can include:

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can colon spasms cause back pain?

    Yes. Back pain is a common symptom in people with IBS.

    Reasons for back pain in IBS include:

    • Intestinal symptoms: IBS-related feelings of gas, bloating, or colon spasms can cause abdominal and lower back pain.
    • Referred pain: Pain that starts in one body part (intestines) can be felt in another area (back).
    • Related health conditions: IBS can occur alongside an overlapping condition that can cause back pain, like rheumatoid arthritis or fibromyalgia.
  • What triggers spastic colon?

    Common triggers for a spastic colon attack, or IBS flare, include:

    • Stress
    • Some medications
    • Stomach or intestine infections (gastroenteritis)
    • Certain foods (such as high-FODMAP foods)
    • Caffeine
    • Carbonated drinks
    • Artificial sugars
    • Alcohol
  • How long does spastic colon last?

    IBS is a chronic condition that can last long-term. Up to 75% of IBS patients continue to have the condition five years later.

    However, someone with IBS might not have symptoms all the time. They may experience flare-ups that last anywhere from a few days to several weeks.

    Most often, IBS flares last less than one week and usually don't continue more than three days.

10 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. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Definition and facts for irritable bowel syndrome.

  2. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Symptoms and causes of irritable bowel syndrome.

  3. Cozma-Petruţ A, Loghin F, Miere D, Dumitraşcu DL. Diet in irritable bowel syndrome: What to recommend, not what to forbid to patients! WJG. 2017;23(21):3771. doi:10.3748/wjg.v23.i21.3771

  4. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Treatment for Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

  5. International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders. Medications for IBS.

  6. International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders. Overview of symptoms.

  7. International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders. Overlapping conditions with IBS.

  8. Harvard Health Publishing. Best ways to battle irritable bowel syndrome.

  9. Saha L. Irritable bowel syndrome: Pathogenesis, diagnosis, treatment, and evidence-based medicineWorld J Gastroenterol. 2014;20(22):6759-6773. doi:10.3748/wjg.v20.i22.6759

  10. Su A, Shih W, Presson AP, Chang L. Characterization of symptoms in irritable bowel syndrome with mixed bowel habit patternNeurogastroenterol Motil. 2014;26(1):10.1111/nmo.12220. doi:10.1111/nmo.12220

Additional Reading
  • Minocha A, Adamec C. The Encyclopedia of the Digestive System and Digestive Disorders. (2nd Ed.) New York: Facts on File.

  • Wilkins T, Pepitone C, Alex B, Schade RR. Diagnosis and management of IBS in adults. Am Fam Physician. 2012;1:86(5):419-26. PMID:22963061

By Barbara Bolen, PhD
Barbara Bolen, PhD, is a licensed clinical psychologist and health coach. She has written multiple books focused on living with irritable bowel syndrome.