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What are Bowel Spasms?

By Nat Robinson
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Bowel spasms are muscle contractions of the intestines. These involuntary spasms may appear without any warning. They may be short or last for long periods of times. Bowel spasms are generally a quite painful and unpleasant experience, regardless of duration. Commonly, they appear as a symptom of an intestinal disorder such as irritable bowel syndrome or ulcerative colitis, although spasms can be experienced by individuals with a completely normal digestive system.

Spasms of the bowels are different from the normal motility used to eliminate waste. Bowel spasms generally cause abnormally painful contractions. The abdominal pain may be so severe that the individual may become physically immobile while the spasm runs its course. In an individual with a normal digestive system, the spasms may be caused by stimulated nerve impulses. Nervousness, stress and anxiety are some common causes of intestinal nerve stimulation.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common cause of bowel spasms. The condition affects the large intestine. Diarrhea, constipation, bloating and abdominal pain are other general symptoms. Certain foods, stress and anxiety can exaggerate the symptoms and make the condition worse. Many people with IBS learn self-help techniques to curb such symptoms. This may include a change in diet and eliminating stress factors.

Ulcerative colitis is an inflammation of the lower digestive tract, which includes the large intestine and the rectum. The inflammation can lead to the formation of ulcers within the intestine. Bowel spasms are a common symptom of this condition, in addition to bloating, constipation, a fullness sensation and diarrhea. This condition may flare up and then go away for a period of time. The objective in treating this condition will be to prevent flareups.

The treatment methods used to treat bowel spasms will vary from patient to patient. An antispasmodic may be used to ease the tension causing the spasms. Individuals who have diarrhea as a result of the spasms may be given anti-diarrheal medications. As abdominal pain usually accompanies spasms in the bowels, anti-inflammatory medicines may be prescribed to lessen both pain and inflammation.

An individual suffering from bowel spasms should be seen by a doctor to evaluate the condition. A general doctor may refer a patient to a gastroenterologist, which is a doctor specializing in diseases and disorders of the digestive tract. It will be important to undergo a full examination, as severe bowel spasms may be a symptom of a wide variety of diseases. Generally, the individual will undergo a type of medical imaging test to get a detailed view of the inside of the intestinal tract.

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Discussion Comments
By anon990921 — On May 16, 2015

I had a mysterious bout of vomiting 10 days ago and now I am having the most painful spasms. The doctors say its the bug working its way out of my body but surely it doesn't take 10 days? The pains come and go like waves. I feel if someone were to sit on my stomach that my intestines would burst.

By anon960680 — On Jul 12, 2014

I have had this problem. At one point it seemed cyclical (every six weeks). It started as a dull stomach pain, growing over hours, eventually leading to vomiting, which provided no relief. I ended up in the ER at one point, seeing a doctor just as the pain was subsiding. He suggested tests for gallbladder or liver problems, but scans showed nothing.

My father in law (a physician) gave me some prescription-strength tylenol when it happened at their house and this is the cure I still use: a large dose of any over-the-counter muscle-relaxant does the trick. I have since had the problem more as an intestinal/rectal pain, but the same strategy works: 1000mg of paracetamol or similar and the pain goes relatively quickly. I never travel without it.

By anon329418 — On Apr 09, 2013

I sympathize those of you who have been living with this. Over the past two weeks I have suddenly been afflicted with very painful bowel spasms. God, they hurt! I thought they had run their course but after a heavy dairy meal (double cheese pizza if you must know) the spasms came back worse than ever.

As others have noted, lying down or stretching the abdomen seems to help. Sitting, especially when hunched forward, seems to bring on spasms more frequently. I have an appointment with a nurse practitioner tomorrow, which will hopefully lead to a referral to a gastroenterologist.

I am 51 years old, male, slightly overweight but not obese, and otherwise healthy.

By anon309979 — On Dec 19, 2012

I have had this problem off and on for years. It starts as a gripping kind of cramp in my lower intestines, bloating, a feeling of heaviness in my bowels. It is very hard to pass gas or have a bowel movement during this time. It can last for one or two days, then gradually, it goes away. I have found that eating too much salad seems to be the cause.

I also feel very fatigued afterward, often feel chilled or feverish as well. It is truly debilitating, and I can't go anywhere when I am having this.

By anon302862 — On Nov 12, 2012

Can adhesions on the bowel cause blockages and spasms?

By anon287946 — On Aug 27, 2012

@Flowerchild: Yes, I just got out of the ER due to what was diagnosed (CT scans and all) as "Bowel Contractions". They were very painful and yes, a fever did accompany my symptoms. They couldn't even keep the EGR patches on me due to cold sweats that came with the spasms.

I was injected with a cocktail of pain and anti-vomiting meds and the relief was immediate as my fever also broke quickly.

How to measure the body temp? I don't know. I can tell you that every spasm seemed to inject me with what felt like a feverish wave of nausea.

I think my experience was more painful then most here. I thought I was dying. Hope this helps.

By anon249476 — On Feb 21, 2012

I really appreciated the information and it may be a good thing to mention to my doctor. I am in so much pain that, when the pain does come, I have to lie on a flat surface and rock back and forth to try to alleviate the problem. Eventually, it does go away, but boy, is it a horrible thing to go through.

By artlover — On Mar 10, 2011

@flowechild--If you have a condition known as diverticulitis, or simply an intestinal virus, you can have a fever along with abdominal spasms.

If it lasts longer than a day or two, I would suggest you go to your doctor. If it is diverticulitis, there are a lot of things you can do, like diet and lifestyle changes to help support your digestive health.

By flowerchild — On Mar 07, 2011

This is good information, thank you. I always thought of bowel spasms as bowel flutters, but they don't cause pain as much as a butterfly type of feeling.

Can bowel spasms cause a fever?

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