The human colon, also called the large intestine, is the lower portion of the digestive system. The colon is shaped like an upside down letter "U" and is comprised of three major sections. The ascending colon starts in the lower right area of the abdomen and goes upwards below the liver, where it turns into the transverse colon as it goes across the abdomen, before becoming the sigmoid colon section when it descends to the point where it meets the rectum. There are a number of common colon problems that can affect a person's overall health, with some much more serious than others.
One common colon problem is colon cancer, a disease which begins in the large intestine and can spread to other parts of the body. The American Cancer Society estimates that over 110,000 Americans each year are given a diagnosis of colon cancer. Colon cancer begins in most instances as a small grouping of cells known as a polyp. Some polyps can grow and become cancerous, but the initial stages of colon cancer often produce few if any symptoms. Changes in an individual's bowel habits, gas, blood in the stool and cramping can indicate colon cancer is present. Once it is discovered, colon cancer is treatable by surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy and other types of medications designed to limit the advance of the ailment.
Diverticulosis is the term for smallish pouches that can develop in the wall of the colon. These pouches bulge outward through weakened regions of the colon and are most common in the elderly population. As many as half of the people over the age of 60 will have some of these pouches; they can develop when a person has a diet low in fiber. Inflammation or infection of these pouches is called diverticulitis, which can bring with it pain in the abdominal area, normally on the left side of the body. Fever, vomiting, nausea and constipation can occur with this colon problem. Diverticulitis can be treated with antibiotics to stop the inflammation and infection, rest for the colon by consuming a liquid diet, or by surgery to remove the diseased portion of the intestine.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease
Colitis and Crohn's disease are called inflammatory bowel diseases. Colitis is characterized by inflammation of the intestines and is usually seen in the colon, while Crohn's disease is not at all uncommon in the colon but is mostly in the small intestine. Colitis will develop in stretches of the colon; Crohn's disease can be found in numerous patches throughout the digestive tract, including the colon. The symptoms of colitis include bloody diarrhea, cramping and abdominal pain. Crohn's disease brings with it bouts of diarrhea, pain and ulcers that appear on the intestinal surface. Inflammatory bowel disease is treated with anti-inflammatory medications, surgery and other drugs designed to suppress the immune system, as the disease is thought to be caused when a person's immune system attacks healthy tissue.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Irritable bowel syndrome is a very common colon problem, with 20 percent of adults in the United States afflicted with it according to the Mayo Clinic. Irritable bowel syndrome can bring gas along with bloating, diarrhea, constipation and severe cramping. The disease is seen more often in women than in men. There is no cure for irritable bowel syndrome, but the symptoms can be successfully treated with medication to prevent diarrhea and constipation, fiber supplements and avoiding foods that trigger the condition.
A twisted colon can occur when a segment of the intestine turns within the abdominal cavity, causing a constriction of the colon. Known in medical circles as colonic volvulus, a twisted colon is a serious problem that most often will occur in middle-aged and older men. The symptoms of a twisted colon include extreme distension of the abdominal area, severe constipation as nothing can pass through that section of the intestine, and pain accompanied by nausea. In addition, the blood flow in that region can be affected and tissue death can occur. Surgery is required immediately to repair a twisted colon, which is often diagnosed with the use of X-rays and other imaging scans.