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The colon is part of the large intestine. An enlarged colon is a term used to describe the dilation, or widening, of this part of the intestine. It is sometimes referred to as a megacolon. The colon's main function is to absorb water and salts from food that is digested. It also stores waste until it can be expelled from the body; when the colon becomes enlarged, it cannot perform this function effectively.
The causes colon enlargement can be constipation, inflammation, or specific digestive disorders such as Crohn's disease. If an enlarged colon gets infected, it is known as a toxic megacolon. This can become a serious medical condition.
Symptoms of this problem are usually constipation and abdominal pain. Constipation can occur because of the use of narcotics or not enough fiber in the diet. If nerve damage to the inside of the colon occurs, it can sometimes impair the peristaltic movement of the colon, which is the muscular movement that pushes waste matter through the intestine. When this happens, fecal matter can continue to accumulate in the bowel. It will become hard and very difficult to evacuate.
A megacolon can also be caused by Crohn's disease, a chronic inflammatory bowel disease. Medical professionals are not sure what causes this disease of the large intestine, although some think it is an autoimmune disorder. Heredity is also thought to be a factor in the development of Crohn's disease.
Healthcare professionals will diagnose an enlarged colon by physical exam. They will also use abdominal X-rays to support their diagnosis. An anorectal manometry is sometimes used to diagnose a megacolon. This test involves inflating a balloon inside the rectum to test the nerve function.
The treatment for this condition depends on what is causing the dilatation. If the megacolon is caused by an inflammatory or disease process, then treating the inflammation or disease may be enough to reduce the size of the colon. When constipation is the issue, then taking the necessary steps to cure the constipation is important. Reducing the use of narcotics can sometimes help eliminate a megacolon.
There are some cases in which surgery may be necessary to fix the colon. The surgeon can remove the part of the bowel that is no longer functioning. After removing the paralyzed section, peristalsis should return to normal.
In cases where megacolon is a recurrent issue, it is critical that the patient follows the orders of his or her healthcare provider. What the patient eats is extremely important; a high fiber diet is usually ordered for those with digestive problems. In addition to increased fiber, an increase in water consumption is also very important.