The colon is another term for the large intestine. It is part of the digestive tract, which consists of several organs through which food and liquid pass. In some circumstances, a person’s colon may become inflamed.
A doctor may refer to the inflammation of the colon as colitis. This may occur over the short-term or as part of a chronic condition. A person with an inflamed colon will likely have additional symptoms, such as abdominal cramping and diarrhea.
This article explores the causes of an inflamed colon, and how to treat and prevent the inflammation.
There are several different reasons why a person’s colon may become inflamed. Some of these include:
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
Ulcerative colitis is a chronic condition where both the colon and rectum become inflamed and develop ulcers. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) state there several possible causes of ulcerative colitis:
Autoimmune disorder: Certain bacteria or viruses may cause the immune system to mistakenly attack the colon, which causes inflammation.
Genes: Sometimes, the condition may run in families, which suggests it may be due to a defective gene. However, more research is needed to explore whether genes play a part in causing ulcerative colitis.
Environment: Certain factors, such as consuming a high-fat diet, taking antibiotics, or oral contraceptives, may increase a person’s chances of developing ulcerative colitis.
Similar to ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease can also affect the colon. However, it may also affect other parts of the digestive tract.
Currently, the causes of Crohn’s disease are unknown. However, factors, such as stress and a person’s diet, may cause flare-ups.
Microscopic colitis is another cause of colon inflammation. To identify this condition, a healthcare provider must examine the colon tissue under a microscope.
There are two types of microscopic colitis: lymphocytic and collagenous colitis. The symptoms and treatments of both types are the same. Some doctors suggest they may be different phases of the same condition, rather than separate diseases.
Experts are uncertain about what causes microscopic colitis, but most scientists believe it may be due to an abnormal immune response to bacteria in the colon.
Colon inflammation could also arise from infection from certain bacteria such as campylobacter, Escherichia coli (E.coli), or salmonella. A person may contract an infection in the following circumstances:
Contaminated water: If a person drinks contaminated water or swims in contaminated lakes or rivers.
Poor hygiene: If a person handles raw meat and then touches their mouth. Additionally, people may contract an infection by cross-contaminating food areas. For example, if they use the same area or utensil for raw meat and salad without washing it in between.
Foodborne illnesses: A person may develop an infection if they eat raw or undercooked foods.
Ischemic colitis is a condition that causes a reduction in blood flow to the colon. This can develop over time in chronic cases, or come on suddenly as an acute condition. The condition occurs when the blood vessels narrow or become blocked.
Due to a lack of blood flow, the digestive system cells do not receive enough oxygen, which may result in tissue death. Treatment options depend on the severity but may include managing the underlying cause, or surgery.
Different conditions that trigger the inflammation may produce their own unique symptoms. However, a person with colon inflammation may experience the following general symptoms:
In more severe cases, a person may experience:
- weight loss
- diarrhea with blood
Treatments for an inflamed colon depends on the cause.
There is no cure for ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, but life-long treatments and lifestyle changes can reduce the risk of flare-ups.
In cases where the cause of colitis is an acute condition, treatments may consist of one or more of the following:
- anti-diarrhea medication
- anti-sickness medication
- anti-inflammatory medication
If a person wishes to try home remedies for colitis, they may consider:
Aloe vera gel: An older study suggests aloe vera gel may have anti-inflammatory properties that can ease colitis. However, experts do not know precisely how it works.
Turmeric: Turmeric contains curcumin, which research highlights can act as an anti-inflammatory.
Bromelain: This is the active component in pineapple. Research suggests that it may have anti-inflammatory effects that can alleviate symptoms of IBD.
As IBD may have a genetic element, there is currently no proven way to prevent it. Therefore, people with the condition cannot completely prevent flare-ups. However, the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation suggest the following tips:
- quitting smoking
- reducing stress
- eating a healthful diet
- reducing alcohol intake
- monitoring and tracking the condition
To avoid colitis from infected foods, a person may consider the following:
- If eating out, check the hygiene rating of the restaurant.
- Never using the same utensils or surfaces for raw meat and vegetables without cleaning them first.
- Washing hands after handling raw meat.
- Storing raw meat in the refrigerator.
- If traveling abroad, a person may consider drinking bottled water instead of tap water.
A person should see their doctor if symptoms worsen, or if diarrhea lasts longer than 2 days. If diarrhea is chronic or contains blood, a doctor may need a stool sample.
If people experience sudden and severe abdominal pain, this may be a sign of a serious condition. In this instance, they should seek emergency medical treatment.
Inflammation of the colon, or colitis, may occur for many reasons. It may be due to a short-term infection from consuming contaminated food, or a sign of a chronic condition, such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.
Colitis symptoms may include abdominal cramping, diarrhea, nausea, and bloating. A person should see a doctor if their symptoms become severe or if diarrhea lasts longer than 48 hours.