Your colon, also called the large intestine, is a long, hollow organ, usually about 5 feet long. If it’s longer in length, it creates extra twists to fit the belly. This is called a tortuous colon or redundant colon.
A curved colon is a rare condition that usually causes no symptoms. However, it can cause discomfort and, in some cases, can lead to serious complications.
This article provides details on flexural colon symptoms, causes, and treatment, as well as how it compares to other conditions that affect the colon.
Some doctors may use these terms tortuous colon and extra colon Interchangeable, as is done throughout this article. Others make a distinction, identifying them by subtle differences:
- tortuous colon: a colon with a large number of sharp bends
- Redundant colons: colons with too many loops
Most of the time, neither is a serious health problem. Also, they do not increase your risk of colon cancer.
What is the function of the colon?
Symptoms of a curved colon
Most people with a curved colon have no symptoms. They learn they have the disease after a healthcare provider discovers it while performing a medical test or procedure or treating another problem.
However, in some cases it can cause problems such as:
- stomach ache
- abdominal cramps
- Swelling or swelling (bloating) of the abdomen
- Excessive passage of gas
- Fecal impaction, when large amounts of dry stool get stuck in the rectum
Bowel obstruction is a rare but potentially serious complication associated with colon curvature. This happens when a ring in the colon twists so much that it blocks the digestive pathway – a condition called volvulus.
Symptoms of bowel obstruction include:
- severe lower abdominal pain
- Excessive abdominal swelling/bloating
- nausea and/or vomiting
- No bowel movements for more than three days
- blood or mucus in the stool
Get medical help right away if you experience any of these symptoms.
A person may have a curved colon for a variety of reasons. Some people are born with the disorder and may even have a genetic predisposition.
The colon can also become elongated and twisted due to low dietary fiber content, chronic constipation, frequent hard stools, and struggling to pass stools.
In some cases, the cause cannot be determined.
Although many people have no symptoms, a crooked colon can cause digestive problems. It could have a genetic cause or it could be due to your bowel problems. Some cases have no known cause.
An elongated or twisted colon is usually only treated if it causes symptoms.
Otherwise, it is recommended to develop good digestive habits and respond promptly to the urge to defecate.
self care therapy
If you experience gas, bloating, abdominal pain, or constipation, address these symptoms as needed.
To relieve abdominal pain, you may need to use a heating pad or hot water bottle where the abdominal pain appears to be coming from.
Eating a high-fiber diet and drinking plenty of water may help relieve constipation.
A low-FODMAP diet may help relieve gas and bloating symptoms, although no studies have shown it to be particularly effective for a tortuous colon. (FODMAPs are fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols, special types of carbohydrates that are difficult to absorb in the gut.)
There is no one specific treatment option for a tortuous colon.
Your healthcare provider may work with you to develop a management plan for any chronic digestive symptoms you may experience, which may include the use of prescription or over-the-counter medications.
- Antispasmodic drugs, which block muscle contractions that cause abdominal pain and cramping
- Fiber supplements to increase and soften stool
- laxatives, medicines that make it easier to pass stool
- constipation medicine
- Antidepressants for pain relief
Although bowel obstruction caused by a tortuous colon is a very rare event, it can be life-threatening and usually requires surgical intervention.
Tortuous colon and IBS
Many symptoms of a curved colon are similar to those of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). By definition, IBS is diagnosed when there is no structural abnormality (or visible inflammation or damage). Therefore, IBS and a tortuous colon are considered two distinct health conditions.
A tortuous colon may be found when you have a diagnostic test for IBS. It’s also possible that your doctor will group your symptoms under the same IBS umbrella.
Although there are no definitive studies on the matter, IBS with constipation (IBS-C) may increase your risk of colon flexure. Still, a tortuous colon is uncommon.
Unless you have an obstruction, treatment of a curved colon actually involves managing symptoms. You may have another colon-related condition, such as irritable bowel syndrome and a tortuous colon, that needs treatment.
Colonoscopy is a necessary procedure for colon cancer screening. A long tool with a light at the end, called an endoscope, is inserted into the rectum and through the entire colon until it reaches the cecum. This is where the small and large intestines meet.
During this procedure, your doctor can look at the health of your large intestine and remove any abnormal tissue, such as polyps. The tissue can then be tested for the presence of cancer cells.
A tortuous colon can make this process challenging. Twisted, looped, and/or acute angles of the bowel can make it difficult for an endoscope to pass through the colon.
In these cases, doctors have some alternative screening options.
Double Contrast Barium Enema (DCBE)
In the past, double-contrast barium enemas have been most commonly used as an alternative to traditional colonoscopy to treat a tortuous colon.
During this procedure, a liquid preparation containing barium is inserted into your rectum. Then, a series of X-rays are taken of your lower abdomen. Barium is used as a contrast agent, or a substance that helps highlight structures of interest in a scan so they can be more easily distinguished.
Next, the barium is expelled, air is pumped through the rectum into the colon, and further X-ray images are taken.
One of the reasons DCBE has fallen out of favor is that studies have shown that it is not as good at identifying the presence of abnormal tissue in the large intestine.
Virtual colonoscopy, also known as computed tomography colonoscopy (CTC), offers an alternative to traditional colonoscopy for the curved colon.
During this process, you still have to prepare for bowel emptying for a traditional colonoscopy on the day of the test.
Before CTC, you will be asked to drink a liquid with contrast dye. A short, thin tube will be inserted to pump air into the colon. You will then have a series of X-rays.
Like DCBE, this procedure is limited in its ability to detect small growths in the colon. If there is any evidence, you will still need to have a traditional colonoscopy.
Newer research shows that if people with a curved colon try again and the medical team uses a different-sized endoscope, such as those designed for children, they are more likely to have a successful full colonoscopy.
Colon Cancer Screening Recommendations and Options
If your colon is longer than 5 feet, it will twist itself to fit your belly. The extra loops and bends that form lead to a condition called a tortuous or redundant colon.
You may have some digestive discomfort, such as constipation and cramps, but it’s usually fine. In most cases, you can manage your symptoms with over-the-counter medicines and home remedies.
However, if you do have serious digestive problems, you should see your doctor to determine if these are due to an abnormally long colon.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is a curved colon serious?
Usually, a curved colon has no symptoms and does not cause any medical problems. However, in rare cases, your intestines can become blocked, which can lead to intestinal tears and other very serious complications.
Who is most likely to have an extra colon?
Longer colons appear to be more common in women and older adults. Eating a low-fiber diet and frequent constipation may increase your chances of developing excess colon.