Colonic Inertia

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What is colonic inertia?

Colonic inertia is referred to as a motility disorder; that is, it is an abnormal passage of waste through the digestive system. Motility disorders are very common, especially problems associated with constipation and diarrhea. Walk down any drug store aisle and you will eventually be presented with many over-the-counter medications to correct these problems.

However, motility disorders may indicate a more complex problem. The function of the digestive tract may be impaired.

Symptoms of colonic inertia

Any dramatic change in bowel habits, or bleeding, should be immediately addressed. Consult a physician to determine the cause of this change.

Causes of colonic inertia

Colonic inertia may be caused by one or more of the following:

  • nerve or muscle damage
  • not enough water in a person's diet
  • eating too much dairy products
  • frequent use of antacids and laxatives
  • strong pain killers and other medication
  • thyroid conditions

Your doctor may request a complete dietary history to determine if your lifestyle is affecting your digestion.

Diagnosis of colonic inertia

Diagnosing for colonic inertia may require a test called a transit time measurement to determine the speed at which the body moves food through the digestive system. This test may, in fact, point towards causes that are not even related to colonic inertia, such as low thyroid hormone levels. A thorough medical history is necessary to determine if certain medical events may have precipitated this problem.

If colonic inertia is indicated, and the person suffers from constipation with abdominal pain and bloating which make daily activities difficult, then surgery may be needed.

Treatment of colonic inertia

Fortunately, most problems with motility in the lower gut can be resolved with changes in diet and exercise. Such dietary changes could include:

  • eating foods high in fiber
  • drinking plenty of water
  • avoiding dairy products
  • avoiding fatty foods

However, surgical intervention is an option when these changes fail to produce the desired result.

Surgical treatment

Surgically shortening the colon (large intestine) corrects a slow colon. Most of the colon is removed, and the small intestine is attached directly to the rectum. This procedure does not require a colostomy.

The surgery for slow colon is considered major surgery. It is not quite as dangerous as open heart surgery, chest or brain surgery, but it is major surgery. It is a bigger operation than a hysterectomy. It involves removing about eighty percent of the large intestine. The technical name for the operation is total abdominal colectomy and ileorectal anastomosis.