Overview of a Spastic Colon

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Spastic colon was an early term used to describe the health condition that is now known as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). The term "spastic colon" came about because of a belief that the motility problems and abdominal pain associated with IBS were caused by muscle spasms within the large intestine. Doctors now know that the mechanisms behind IBS are far more complex.

If you have been told you have, or just think you have, a spastic colon, it may be helpful for you to learn more about IBS.

doctor doing abdominal check on a woman
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Irritable Bowel Syndrome

IBS is what's known as a functional gastrointestinal disorder. This means that there is something wrong with the way that the digestive system is functioning, but no visible signs of disease can be seen during diagnostic testing. IBS is diagnosed after your doctor has ruled out other disorders. The subtypes of IBS are based on the changes in bowel movements and whether constipation, diarrhea, or mixed bowel habits are predominant.

Symptoms of IBS

People who have IBS experience a variety of symptoms related to the functioning of the large intestine. This means that they experience chronic constipation or urgent bouts of diarrhea. Many people find themselves alternating between the two bathroom problems. Other symptoms include:

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

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, you should see your doctor. Many other more serious disorders share some of these same symptoms. It is important that you receive a proper diagnosis so that you can set up the appropriate treatment plan.

IBS Doctor Discussion Guide

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

Doctor Discussion Guide Man

What Causes Spastic Colon?

Although no one knows for sure why some people end up with IBS, there is now much more information as to what might have gone wrong. Here are some problems that have been identified as possible causes:

  • Motility problems: The functioning of the large intestine muscles, including the speed and strength of gut contractions
  • Visceral hypersensitivity: A stronger-than-normal pain response to pressure within the large intestine
  • The brain-gut connection: The role of the nervous system, including changes in the levels of neurotransmitters and hormones
  • Inflammation: Although by definition, there is no visible inflammation with IBS, there are indications that there may be inflammation that is not visible
  • Gut bacteria: An imbalance between "friendly" and "unfriendly" bacteria that make up the gut flora

One of the reasons why IBS is so tricky to understand and treat is that it may be caused by several different factors. You can see that researchers have come a long way from pointing to spasms in the gut as being the problem.

Treatment of IBS

There is no one cure for IBS. Instead, there are a variety of avenues that your doctor might recommend for you to try, including:

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Article Sources
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  1. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Definition and facts for irritable bowel syndrome. Updated November, 2017.

  2. National Insitute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Symptoms and causes of irritable bowel syndrome. Updated November, 2017.

  3. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Treatment for irritable bowel syndrome. Updated November 2017.

Additional Reading
  • Minocha A, Adamec C. The Encyclopedia of the Digestive System and Digestive Disorders. (2nd Ed.) New York: Facts on File; 2011.

  • Wilkins T, Pepitone C, Alex B, Schade R. Diagnosis and management of IBS in adultsAmerican Family Physician. 2012;86(5):419-426.