A tortuous (or redundant, elongated) colon is a health condition that may or may not present symptoms to a patient.
This issue results from the large intestine becoming longer than normal, causing the colon to twist and bend in order to adjust to its allocated space in the body.
The tortuous colon’s loops and bends may result in the obstruction of the intestinal tract, and difficulty passing fecal material. This may lead to constipation, which requires lifestyle changes in order to maintain optimal health.
What is a Tortuous or Redundant Colon?
The name ‘tortuous colon’ does not refer to pain, torture, or discomfort, rather it refers to the colon’s presence of twists and turns.
While all intestines are full of twists and turns, a tortuous colon is specifically a colon that is longer than normal, subjecting itself to an abnormally high amount of redundancy.
According to Dr. Enrique Molina, the percentage of people who live with a tortuous colon is unknown, due to the fact that many go undiagnosed and unnoticed.(1) However, it is estimated that about 5% of people have this condition.
Healthline reports that the average colon is about 47 to 60 inches in length.(2)
A person with a tortuous colon, however, has a longer intestine that is typically located in the descending colon, which is the portion of the large intestine beginning at the splenic flexure and ending at the sigmoid colon.
The descending colon’s function within the gastrointestinal system is to store food that has been digested and will move into the rectum before being excreted by the body.
While this mild condition does not always result in adverse symptoms, in some cases the patient may experience gastrointestinal problems. A severe tortuous colon may even cause blockages and obstructions in the intestines, which can be a serious condition.
While many people fear that a tortuous colon may lead to cancer, Medicaltreasure reminds us that it does not place one at a higher risk for cancer, and is not in any way associated with the occurrence of cancer.(3)
A tortuous (or elongated) colon is often discovered by chance, either during a colonoscopy or on an unrelated barium X-ray.
Some people are born with a tortuous colon, while others develop the condition later in life. Some are born with a genetic predisposition to this condition, so if a member of their family has a tortuous colon, there is a chance that other family members may have this condition as well.
One cause of the development of this health issue is an improper diet. A diet that is lacking in fiber and hydration may result in chronic constipation and hard stool.
Eating too many processed foods on a regular basis can also lead to chronic constipation. Chronic constipation causes the person to strain excessively during bowel movements, which results in the straining of the intestine as well.
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Slow movement of bowels with straining during a bowel movement may ultimately result in the lengthening of the colon.
While some people experience no symptoms, others have gastrointestinal issues due to their redundant colon.
According to HealthLine, some symptoms may include constipation, increased bloating, and fecal impaction.(4)
Fecal impaction has a possibility of becoming dangerous if left untreated. It is is a hard, dry stool that hardens as it is stuck in the rectum, and is very difficult to pass.
If symptoms are left untreated, constipation may lead to further complications, such as hemorrhoids, rectal prolapse, or anal fissures.
People who have a tortuous colon have an increased risk of colonic volvulus as well, which results in colonic obstruction. If the flow of stool is slowed or completely stopped, it may lead to an emergency requiring surgery.
A tortuous colon is typically initially suspected by visible and physical signs and symptoms a patient has. It is then later confirmed by a colonoscopy. This procedure involves inserting a colonoscope into the rectum to detect the presence of this condition.
A colonoscopy is particularly effective in making a diagnosis in a patient who has severe twisting and looping.
Medical treatment is not always necessary for a tortuous colon. Treatment may only be used if the patient is experiencing discomfort, pain, or harmful gastrointestinal symptoms.
Treatment for mild symptoms may be as simple as decreasing the overall stress that is exerted on the colon by making some lifestyle changes.
Eating a diet rich in fiber and drinking plenty of water helps loosen up stools, making them easier to eliminate from the body.(check on amazon)
Laxatives may also be prescribed to help stools effectively move through the colon. the smooth passage of stools through the colon. For a severe case that may involve intestinal obstruction, a patient may require surgery.
Diet for Tortuous (Redundant, Elongated) Colon
A proper diet is the first step to decreasing the chance of having complications with a tortuous colon.
According to LiveStrong, the most effective change in one’s diet to alleviate constipation is increasing fluid and fiber intake.(5)
Women should consume a minimum of 20 grams of fiber each day, while men need at least 30 grams.(check on amazon)
The amount of fluids that one needs depends on climate and lifestyle, but a general rule is that women should drink 5 sixteen-ounce bottles of water each day and men should drink 7.
Hydration can also come from food sources such as fruit, broths, and vegetables.
Dr. Axe claims that the best foods for a high fiber diet include:(6)
» Brussels Sprouts
» Acorn Squash
» Flax and chia seeds
Prunes are also a good source of fiber, and they are especially helpful in relieving constipation due to the fact that they contain sorbitol and phenolic acids, which can improve bowel function.
Fiber is so important in the diet of someone who has a tortuous colon for a couple of reasons. Fiber affects the gastrointestinal system by drawing fluids from the body, adding bulk to the stool and making it easier to pass.
It also helps to strengthen the walls of the colon so they are able to better move the bowels.
When you begin to increase the amount of dietary fiber in your daily routine, it is important to ease into it and increase the amount of fiber you eat each day gradually.
According to FamilyDoctor.org, adding fiber to your diet may result in an increase of bloating, gas, and stomach cramping.(7)
These symptoms can be prevented by making small changes over time in your diet. Start with one change, such as replacing white bread with whole-grain bread, then wait a few days before making another change.
Always make sure to consume additional fluids while increasing your fiber intake. Fluids will help the body digest the fiber more easily.
It is important to get fiber from food rather than dietary supplements because supplements usually contain a very small portion of the fiber that is necessary to aid in bowel function. The original sources of fiber in supplements is also often unknown, and therefore may not be valuable.
Beware especially of supplements containing methylcellulose, wheat dextrin, or calcium polycarbophil because they are all man-made substances that provide no nutritional value to the body.
When to See a Doctor
Some people are able to live healthy lives with a tortuous colon without ever being aware that they have the condition.
By itself, it is not considered to be a medical emergency, but having a tortuous colon may increase one’s risk for other gastrointestinal conditions that may need medical treatment.
It is important to seek emergency help from a doctor if you have extreme pain in your stomach or lower abdomen, if you have gone three consecutive days without having a bowel movement, or if you are vomiting contents that resemble stool.
While having a tortuous colon is not necessarily dangerous, it may cause some undue stress to one’s life.
Overall, this is not a significant health problem. Because some people never know they have a redundant colon, it is not likely to be a cause for concern.
Adapt your lifestyle to create a healthy gastrointestinal tract to avoid any complications that may come along with this condition and you should be able to move forward without any surgical or further treatment.