A twisted bowel is exactly what it sounds like: It is a twist or loop in the intestines that results in an obstruction. When it is the small bowel affected, the medical term is "small bowel volvulus," while the large intestine involved is called the "colonic volvulus." If it happens in the large intestine, there are two types of twisted bowel: the sigmoid or the cecal, depending upon where in the colon the twist is located.
The obstruction in either of these parts of the intestine can quickly result in necrosis, or death of tissue, since the obstruction prevents blood flow. This can be an immediate problem with any bowel obstruction, so this is not something to wait around about. Symptoms vary with different causes of twisted bowel, and treatments also differ accordingly. If you have any symptoms of a twisted bowel, it's time to get checked out by a doctor.
Symptoms of Twisted Bowel
Sometimes a twisted bowel begins with very few symptoms. You might just feel a little "off" or have some minor abdominal pain. But over time, the symptoms grow more severe. Once the flow of blood is blocked, the bowel might start to die, and that is obviously serious cause for concern.
Symptoms of a twisted bowel include nausea, abdominal pain and constipation. You might also hear strange bowel sounds and have bloating or flatulence. When you do use the bathroom, the stools might be bloody. Finally, there will be pronounced abdominal tenderness, as well as distention of the abdomen. These might be mild at first, but can become severe quickly as the condition progresses.
Causes of Twisted Bowel
Sometimes it is not clear what causes a twisted bowel, but there are a few things that doctors have found that can lead to the problem. Here are a few of the reasons, in no particular order:
- Intense Gut Mobility. Sometimes the use of laxatives, a diet very high in fiber or disorders of the intestines can cause this problem. As digested food moves through your intestines, a body working hard to expel it might wind up twisting the bowel.
- Overeating. Too much food can overwhelm the intestine, making it sag, loop or distend downward. This can then lead to a twisted bowel, making it tough for food to move through it at all.
- Intestinal Malrotation. This is a genetic problem in which the bowel isn't shaped properly or doesn't align properly in the abdomen. This problem is often diagnosed as early as the first few days of life, and puts you at higher risk for a twisted bowel.
- Abdominal Adhesions. If you have had an infection or a surgery in the abdominal cavity, sometimes scar tissue can form between sections of bowel. These bands can pull the intestine, introducing kinks and loops that eventually lead to a twisted bowel. In women, growth of endometriosis cells in the bowel can also contribute to the problem.
- Diverticulosis. This condition might be congenital, or it might form later in life. People with this condition develop protrusions in the intestinal lining. These little "sacs" on the lining might cause the bowel to twist in on itself, leading to a significant obstruction. You might not have symptoms of this problem until the obstruction actually occurs, but some people could experience diarrhea, cramping and other bowel problems prior to the obstruction.
- Other Causes. Twisted bowel can also be caused by certain cancers, pregnancy, old age, changes in dietary habits or problems with post-surgical recovery. Keep in mind, however that these reasons for twisted bowel are rather rare.
Treatments for Twisted Bowel
Though most cases of twisted bowel need to be seen by a doctor, there are ways to help avoid getting the problem in the first place.
These home remedies don't take much time and can help you avoid a twisted bowel or bowel obstruction.
- Drink Plenty of Water. At least eight glasses of water each day can help keep the bowels moving as they should. This is especially important for those who have bowel problems such as constipation or regular flatulence.
- Maintain a Healthy Diet. A diet high in fiber can help your bowels move digested food easily, and that can help avoid twisted bowel. Whole grains, fresh fruits, and leafy green vegetables can help, while meats and processed foods should be avoided.
- Consider Colon Cleansing. An occasional colon cleansing can help eliminate your body of the backed up fecal matter. This can help you avoid blockages, twisted bowel and other ailments that come along with a sluggish digestive system.
- Exercise Daily. Getting your body moving can help your digestive system move, too. Daily exercise gets the blood flow going, and that can help eliminate many problems, including twisted bowel.
But what if twisted bowel happens anyway, despite all your precautions and home remedies, unfortunately, that might mean that surgical intervention and other medical treatments are required. Doctors might need to do x-rays, CT-scans, or barium scans in order to determine where the problem is and exactly what is going on inside you. They might sometimes be able to pinpoint the cause, but often the cause is elusive.
If the twisted bowel is severe, surgery might be required. In this case, you might have to undergo a colonoscopy. In this procedure, doctors use a tube that goes through the nose or the anus. The effect can be to alleviate the symptoms of twisted bowel, including the distention, discomfort, vomiting and nausea. However, emergency surgery might be required if the twisted bowel does not sort itself out on its own after such a procedure.