Colon Spasms

Colon spasms are a symptom of intestinal distress. You may have colon spasms as an acute reaction to an infection or a food intolerance. Some people have chronic colon spasms related to an underlying condition, such as IBS.


What are colon spasms?

Colon spasms are muscle spasms in your colon (large intestine). A spasm is a sudden, spontaneous contraction of the muscles. Your colon is the long, coiled tube where food is slowly condensed into poop at the end of the digestive process. It’s lined with muscles that help move poop through the passage until it can be excreted. If these muscles seize and spasm, it can interfere with the natural movement of your bowels.


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What do colon spasms feel like?

You may feel a sudden cramp in your abdomen, particularly on the lower left side. You may also experience:

  • Abdominal pain. Spasms can be painful, especially if they are severe.
  • Constipation. Spasms may cause your colon to retain stool instead of moving it forward.
  • Bloated stomach. This can be a result of constipation and gas, or it may be a parallel symptom related to the same cause as your spasms.
  • Sudden urge to poop. Instead of holding poop back, spasms sometimes thrust it forward, causing fecal incontinence.
  • Diarrhea. If spasms force your poop out before the colon has been able to condense it as it normally would, you may have loose stools.
  • Mucous in your poop. This is a common symptom in people with colon spasms. It may be a defense against chronic diarrhea, or it may be a parallel symptom.

What does it mean to have a spastic colon?

Colon spasms are a symptom. They may be a temporary reaction to something you ate, or they may be related to a more chronic gastrointestinal disease. They are a very common symptom of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Even though not everyone with IBS has colon spasms, they are common enough that “spastic colon” has become a nickname for IBS. All of the complaints listed above that frequently occur with colon spasms are also frequent complaints of people with IBS.


Possible Causes

What are the most common causes of colon spasms?

  • Irritable bowel syndrome. This functional disorder often involves colon spasms, although the cause is unknown. There is no inflammation in IBS. Instead, it seems to make your bowels more sensitive to ordinary stimuli.
  • Inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD). Chronic diseases such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease cause chronic inflammation in your bowels, which can lead to colon spasms.
  • Food allergies or intolerances. Colon spasms may be your body’s reaction to a food that doesn’t agree with it. Food allergies cause an immune response, which includes inflammation. A food intolerance causes digestive distress, which may cause a sensitive colon to spasm.
  • Local infection. Viruses, parasites or bacteria may cause infection and inflammation of the colon (colitis) or pockets in the colon wall (diverticulitis).
  • Endometriosis. This condition causes the endometrium, the lining of the uterus, to develop in other places outside of the uterus, including, sometimes, the intestines. It can cause pain, bleeding and inflammation where it develops. This may cause spasms in your colon.
  • Mental/emotional factors. The gut is closely linked to the brain via the nervous system. This means that mental/emotional stress and sensitivity can contribute to the perception of something wrong in the gut, causing your gut to “overreact” with spasms.

Care and Treatment

How do you get rid of colon spasms?

Some people with chronic colon spasms may be candidates for medication to ease their symptoms. However, pharmaceuticals often have undesirable side effects and don’t address the underlying causes of your symptoms. For this reason, healthcare providers tend to approach the treatment of colon spasms conservatively, beginning with lifestyle changes and natural home remedies. They may recommend:

  • Bowel rest. Intermittent fasting — for example, skipping breakfast or eating dinner earlier in the afternoon — can give your digestive system a chance to calm down and repair after an episode.
  • Elimination diet. A short-term elimination diet can help you identify the foods that trigger your colon spasms. Healthcare providers often recommend the Low-FODMAP diet for IBS patients.
  • Exercise. Regular, moderate exercise has been shown to regulate digestion and bowel movements. It stimulates endorphins to relieve stress and pain and encourages coordination between your gut and nervous system.
  • Stress management. As many as 50% of people with colon spasms or IBS have a heightened sensitivity to pain (visceral hypersensitivity). Whether stress is triggering your colon spasms or triggered by them, or both, stress management is an important part of calming your colon.
  • Fiber and probiotics. Beneficial gut bacteria can help with digestion and food sensitivities and balance out other bacteria that may be causing inflammation in your gut. Fiber helps feed the beneficial bacteria, and it adds bulk to your stool which helps with elimination.
  • Peppermint. Peppermint tea or peppermint oil capsules can help relieve colon spasms. Peppermint is a natural antispasmodic, which means it prevents muscles from contracting.

If conservative treatments don’t help, your healthcare provider may prescribe medication for your symptoms. Medications may include:

  • Antispasmodics. These prevent involuntary muscle spasms.
  • Anticholinergics. These block a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine, which is responsible for transmitting the nerve impulses that trigger involuntary muscle movements.
  • Antidiarrheals. These might be prescription or over-the-counter medications.
  • Antibiotics. You might need antibiotics to treat an infection or bacterial overgrowth.


When To Call the Doctor

When should I seek care for colon spasms?

If you have colon spasms often, seek help to get diagnosed. Locating the cause of your problem is the first step toward relief. Medical testing can help confirm or rule out certain medical conditions, treat an infection or identify food intolerance. You may have an underlying disease that needs attention, or you may simply need to begin a lifelong journey toward overall wellness. Healthcare can help.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Colon spasms can feel like your body is working against you. The muscle contractions are involuntary, often painful and disruptive to healthy bowel activity. Relief lies in getting back on the same page with your gut so that you can address its concerns while helping to calm it down. This means paying attention to what bothers your colon and what makes it feel better, whether that’s a food, habit or stress factor. It may also mean seeking a professional diagnosis so that you can get the personalized treatment you need.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 06/14/2022.

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