What are Colorectal Diseases?
Colorectal diseases refer to several conditions of the colon and rectum that can directly impact its functionality, the severity of which can differ from mildly irritating to potentially life-threatening. The colon and rectum together form the bowel, which assists in the processing and discarding of the food consumed by us.
Different Types of Colorectal Diseases
Some of the common colon and rectal conditions include the following:
- Ulcerative colitis, a condition where the lining of the large intestine (colon) becomes inflamed leading to the development of sores or ulcers. The inflammation almost always affects the rectum and lower part of the colon, but it can also affect the entire colon. It is a type of inflammatory bowel disease.
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a common intestinal muscle functioning disorder characterized by diarrhea, cramps, bloating, and abdominal pain. IBS can mostly be managed with lifestyle and dietary changes.
- Colon polyps, a condition characterized by the growth of an extra piece of tissue from the lining of the colon. It can be flat or mushroom-shaped, small or large. Most are harmless, but some may become cancerous.
- Diverticulitis, a condition characterized by inflammation or infection of small pouches or sacs called diverticula that develop along the walls of the intestines.
- Hemorrhoids, commonly known as piles, is a condition that affects both men and women. They occur when veins inside the lower rectum or anus become swollen and can cause anal itching, rectal bleeding, and pain during bowel movements.
- Colorectal cancer, also known as colon cancer, bowel cancer, or rectal cancer, is a form of cancer that originates within the colon or rectum affecting its functionality. It is one of the leading causes of cancer death among men and women.
- Crohn's disease, also called ileitis or enteritis, is a chronic autoimmune condition that causes inflammation of the digestive tract and can affect any part of the gut. Crohn's disease can be painful, debilitating, and, sometimes, life-threatening. It is a type of inflammatory bowel disease.
- C. difficile or C. diff or Clostridium difficile is a type of bacteria that causes diarrhea (also called C. difficile diarrhea) or severe inflammation in the colon (called C. difficile colitis). C. difficile infections can be hard to treat and present serious health complications if left untreated.
- Fecal incontinence, also known as bowel incontinence, refers to the impaired ability to control gas or stool release due to weakened or severed anal muscles as a result of childbirth, old age, or other nerve or muscle injury. Symptoms can range from occasional leaking of stool, to complete and total loss of bowel control.
- Diarrhea, a condition marked by frequent, watery bowel movements. While most people will experience temporary diarrhea during their lifetime, long-term diarrhea may be a sign of a more serious gastrointestinal problem.
- Chronic constipation, or infrequent bowel movements. Patients with chronic constipation usually have trouble passing stool, or have fewer than 3 bowel movements a week, over an extended period of time.
Symptoms of Colorectal Diseases
Some of the common symptoms of colorectal diseases include the following:
- Abdominal pain
- Rectal bleeding
- Anal itching
- Anal or rectal swelling
- Weight loss
- Change in bowel habits
Causes of Colorectal Diseases
Some of the potential risk factors and causes of colorectal diseases include the following:
- Personal or family history
- Inherited conditions
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Alcohol and smoking
- Dietary habits
Diagnosis of Colorectal Diseases
Your doctor will first review your medical history and perform a thorough physical exam. In order to screen for and accurately diagnose colorectal diseases, your gastroenterologist will further order various tests and procedures, including:
- Endoscopic ultrasound, or EUS, is a procedure that combines endoscopy and ultrasound to capture high-quality pictures of the digestive tract. This test is often employed to help diagnose colon cancer.
- Colonoscopy, a test that enables doctors to see the interior of the colon and rectum utilizing a camera attached to a thin, flexible tube called a colonoscope. Colonoscopy enables doctors to examine the entire colon.
- Anal manometry, a test used to examine how well the muscles in the anus and rectum are working. It is frequently utilized to diagnose chronic constipation or fecal incontinence.
- Sigmoidoscopy, also known as flexible sigmoidoscopy, is identical to a colonoscopy - both are utilized to screen for or diagnose several types of colorectal disease, using a camera attached to a colonoscopy. Sigmoidoscopy is only used to look at the last section of the colon closest to the rectum, called the sigmoid colon.
- Capsule endoscopy, a procedure that uses a tiny camera, which is placed inside a pill-sized capsule and swallowed, to capture images of the gastrointestinal tract. The images are recorded on a device worn around the waist.
- Barium enema, a procedure where the inside of your colon is coated with a contrast dye that helps abnormalities show up better on an x-ray.
Treatments for Colorectal Diseases
Treatments for colorectal diseases vary depending on the type and severity of the problem. Common treatment methods may include:
- Drug therapy: This method is primarily used to manage inflammatory bowel disease. There are various types of medication available. These include anti-inflammatories, immune system modulators, antibiotics, laxatives, and probiotics.
- Pelvic floor physical therapy: This therapy is an effective non-surgical option for people with chronic constipation, fecal incontinence, or rectal pain.
- Dietary changes: Diets high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and low in processed and red meats have been linked with a decreased risk of colon cancer. They are also effective in the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome, mild incontinence, diverticulitis, etc.
- Bowel resection: This is a surgical procedure that removes the diseased portion of the colon or rectum. Sometimes the remaining portions of the colon and rectum cannot be reattached; when this happens, the surgeon also performs a colostomy. During a colostomy, a surgeon creates an artificial opening on the outside of the body, called a stoma, for fecal matter to pass through.
- Endoscopic mucosal resection: A procedure that removes abnormal or cancerous tissue from the gastrointestinal tract, including the colon.
- Fecal transplant or stool transplant: This method is mainly used to treat C. difficile diarrhea and colitis. During the procedure, fecal matter from a healthy, approved donor is transferred to a patient infected with C. difficile. The transplant allows beneficial bacteria found in the donor’s colon to replace the harmful C. difficile bacteria that have taken over the recipient’s colon.
- Ileoanal anastomosis: This surgery is also known as J-pouch surgery and is typically employed to treat ulcerative colitis. It enables patients who have had their colon and rectum removed to continue to pass stool normally, without the need for a colostomy.
- Hemorrhoidectomy: A surgical procedure employed to remove hemorrhoids that have not responded to previous treatments, including topical medication and dietary changes.
- Polypectomy: A surgical procedure to remove abnormal growths of tissue called polyps from the inside of the colon. Polypectomy of colonic polyps has been shown to reduce the risk of colon cancer development.
Prevention of Colorectal Diseases
Development of colorectal conditions can be greatly prevented if you:
- Consume more vegetables, whole grains, and fruits
- Refrain from alcohol and smoking
- Exercise regularly
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Consume less fatty food
- Consume foods rich in folate and calcium