Many different diseases fall under the umbrella of colon disease, from constipation to colon cancer. Many colon diseases also affect the rectum, such as colorectal cancer. Treatment varies by disease; for example, colorectal cancer would require aggressive treatment, while over-the-counter medications and supplements often cure constipation.
Understanding colon disease is helped by understanding the colon (large intestine) and rectum function. The colon is 5 feet long, and it is connected to the rectum, which is 8 inches long.
The colon’s main function is to process liquid stool into solid stool to be excreted as waste. The rectum and the colon work closely together to perform this process. Healthy bowel movements are considered to be at least three bowel movements per week, but it’s not uncommon for other patients to have a few bowel movements a day. If you have less than three bowel movements in a week, this is a sign of constipation.
The most common colon diseases are functional disorders. These are disorders where no problems can be detected in the bowel but it is still dysfunctional. These include:
Other types of colon disease are “structural”—this means that the condition is due or connected to anatomic and pathologic changes in the colon. Further, it oftens requires medical intervention to remove or correct something abnormal in the anus, rectum, and colon. Some structural colon disorders include:
Colitis requires medical treatment. For example, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis
can cause more serious gastrointestinal problems if untreated.
Those who are at highest risk for colon disease have a personal or family history of colon cancer or other diseases of the colon, such as IBD. Gastrointestinal symptoms often go ignored because, while they may affect quality of life slightly, they don’t seem like serious problems. However, you should always let your physician or gastroenterologist know if you have changes in bowel habits, blood in the stool, or other gastrointestinal disturbances. Those who have a family history of colorectal cancer or other colon diseases should inform their physician, as they should be screened for colon cancer before the recommended age of 45.
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