We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.

Advertiser Disclosure

Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.

How We Make Money

We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently from our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

What is an Enlarged Colon?

By Lucinda Reynolds
Updated Mar 03, 2024
Our promise to you
The Health Board is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At The Health Board, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

An enlarged colon is a medical condition that happens when a person’s colon becomes stretched or widened, which makes it very difficult for it to process and expel waste. Within the medical community this condition is sometimes also called “megacolon.” It can be either temporary or long-term, and is usually treated with a series of lifestyle and diet changes. In more serious cases anti-inflammatory medications and even surgery may be required, but a lot of this depends on the specifics of the problem and how long it’s been going on.

Colon Basics

The colon is part of the large intestine, and plays a very important role in digestion. Its primary function is to absorb water and salts from food leaving the stomach, and it stores waste until it can be expelled from the body. There are four main parts of this organ: the ascending colon, the descending colon, the transverse colon, and the sigmoid colon. Enlargement can happen in any of these places, but tends to be most common in the descending and transverse portions.

The specific definition of a megacolon tends to vary somewhat depending on the patient, but in general it’s diagnosed whenever any portion of the intestine has a diameter that is at least 25% larger than the standard “normal.” Sometimes this sort of distortion is temporary and may go away on its own, but in other chronic cases it is more or less permanent, or recurs with some frequency.

Main Causes of Enlargement

A number of different things can be at the root of this condition, but the most common tend to be intense constipation, likely due to diet changes; and specific digestive disorders like Crohn’s disease. Crohn’s disease is a chronic inflammatory bowel problem that that affects the thickness of the intestinal wall and the overall efficacy of digestion.

Enlargement can also be caused by long term use of some narcotics, which can dilate blood vessels and damage intestinal tissues. It can be a side effect of certain medications, too. Infections and injury can also be causes, as can certain genetic disorders. Colon cancer can also cause enlargement depending on the nature of the cancerous growths and their placement.

Symptoms and Problems

Extraordinary constipation is usually one of the first signs of a megacolon. A number of different things can cause constipation, but when enlargement is to blame the blockage is usually persistent, which is to say it lasts for days if not weeks, and it is usually also accompanied by intense abdominal pain and cramping. If nerve damage to the inside of the colon happens, it can sometimes impair the peristaltic movement of the colon, too, which is the muscular movement that pushes waste matter through the intestine. Fecal matter can continue to accumulate in the bowel in these cases, and will become hard and very difficult to evacuate.

Infection is also a big concern, particularly if an enlarged colon is left untreated for any period of time. An infected enlargement is often known as a toxic megacolon, and this can become a serious medical condition. Infection can cause waste to build up and can spread fecal matter and other bacteria to other parts of the digestive system and larger body.

Diagnosis

In most cases the only way to diagnose this condition is through physical exam. Palpitating or feeling the abdomen can allow a healthcare professional to identify any areas of swelling of tension, and feeling inside the rectum can bring any tissue problems to light. Medical examiners who suspect enlargement after these preliminary steps will often order abdominal X-rays or scans both to confirm the diagnosis and to pinpoint the exact location of the enlargement. In some cases an anorectal manometry is sometimes used, too; this test involves inflating a balloon inside the rectum to test the nerve function.

Treatment Options

The treatment for this condition depends on what is causing the dilatation. If the megacolon is caused by an inflammatory condition or disease, then treating that cause may be enough to reduce the size of the colon back to normal. Sometimes lifestyle changes, particularly where diet is concerned, may be all that is required. Experts usually recommend adding more fiber and drinking more water. In cases where megacolon is a recurrent issue, it is critical that the patient follows the orders of his or her healthcare provider to avoid flare-ups. It’s often the case that enlargements get worse every time they happen. Anti-inflammatory medications may also be prescribed.

There are some cases in which surgery may be necessary to fix the colon, though this normally only happens when other treatments and medications have failed. Surgeons are often able to remove the part of the bowel that is enlarged and either replace it with a graft from another portion of the intestine or simply reattach it, shortening the colon slightly. This doesn’t usually guarantee that no other portion of the intestine can become enlarged, but it usually dramatically reduces the risk.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

The Health Board, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

The Health Board, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.