Bowel movement can cause abdominal pain frequently. It can be due to bowel problems and sometimes due to other intestinal problems. However, one cannot easily identify whether pain in the abdomen is due to bowel spasms or other medical conditions.
Bowel is the term given to the organs present below the stomach. It includes small intestine and large intestine present in the lower part of the gut. The intestine contains small muscle fibers in its walls which moves rhythmically contracting and relaxing. By this movement, the contents of the intestine are pushed to the next organ for facilitating digestion and absorption process. Under normal condition, the movement of the muscle fibers is coordinated carefully but sometimes the muscle movement can occur suddenly resulting in bowel spasm.
Peristalsis is the medical term given to this movement and when it happens out of control the muscles can remain in relaxed position or contracted condition for extended duration causing abdominal cramps. Such spasms can interrupt with the normal movement of muscles and can also disrupt the movement of digested food particles through the gut.
Bowel spasms or intestine spasms can cause pain in the abdomen or even cramps. It may or may not be accompanied with other symptoms.
- Bloated feeling or feeling of fullness in the stomach
- Moderate pain due to bowel spasm
- Nausea and vomiting
- Reduced appetite or loss of appetite
- Increase in gas formation and excessive belching
- Constipation (frequent) and sometimes diarrhea
- Distended stomach (enlarged stomach)
There can be other signs like fever and loss of weight if bowel spasm is caused by severe intestinal issues. It is not a matter of concern, if the bowel spasm or muscle contraction gets resolved on its own within minutes. However if one experiences repeated vomiting and/or diarrhea it is wise to seek medical attention.
As said earlier, it is not possible to identify the root cause of bowel spasm (frequently) without undergoing testing procedures.
Causes Of Intestinal Spasms :
Abdominal pain and cramps are not always caused by bowel spasms. There can be simple reason that can cause pain in your stomach. Women are prone to develop abdominal cramps (moderate to severe) before and during monthly periods. Muscles in the uterus can contract wildly during such time causing abdominal cramps.
1. Infection Of Intestine – Bacterial or viral infection can develop in the intestine (both small and large intestine). This can cause inflammation of the walls of the intestine leading to muscle spasms. Very often eating contaminated and undercooked food can cause such infection. Here, the symptoms of vomiting and diarrhea begin quickly after eating such food.
2. Food Poisoning – Eating allergic foods can trigger food poisoning symptoms causing bowel spasm and other signs like diarrhea and mild fever. It can also cause severe stomach cramps.
3. IBD – Inflammatory bowel disease is a chronic disease affecting many organs of the intestine and digestive tract. This is a term given for group of intestinal diseases including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. The walls of the intestine gets inflamed causing moderate or severe stomach cramps along with other symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, fever and rectal bleeding.
4. Pancreatitis – Inflammation of pancreas can also cause bowel spasm though it is not part of bowel (intestine) problem. Similarly swelling of gallbladder can cause cramps in the abdomen.
5. Immunity Disorders – Celiac disease is associated with immunity disorder and is not related to bowel. But it can cause stomach cramps. Some people are hypersensitive to milk or wheat and when they eat such items they can develop intestinal spasm.
6. Toxic Substances – Consuming toxic substances and drugs can cause bowel spasms. Certain kind of narcotic drugs can irritate the mucus lining of the gut leading to inflammation. Alcohol is indeed a toxic substance affecting the intestine and liver. Consuming pesticides and other poisonous substance can cause severe bowel spasms accompanied with serious symptoms like repeated vomiting, diarrhea, reduced blood pressure and even loss of consciousness.
7. Cancer – Intestinal cancer and colon/rectal cancer can cause more severe symptoms other than abdominal cramps. Polyps or cysts can form in the small intestine causing sudden abdominal cramps. Sometimes the cysts may grow in size and number disrupting the movement of food and fluids leading to fecal impaction.
8. Perforation – A small hole can be formed in the intestine causing leakage of food particles in the gut inviting complications. It can cause diarrhea and severe abdominal cramps. Diverticulitis is a condition in which small sacs present in the lining of intestine develops sudden infection leading to inflammation. It can cause severe pain in the left lower abdomen.
9. Appendicitis – Appendix is a small thumb shaped organ (measuring about 3.5 inches) present in the end of large intestine. Sometimes this can develop acute infection developing inflammation and in serious cases it may rupture emptying the fluid directly into the intestine. Appendicitis need to be surgically removed immediately. Appendicitis is one of the leading causes of severe abdominal cramps along with other symptoms like pain in the belly button, swelling of abdomen, gas, flatulence and mild fever. It starts with mild pain in the abdomen and the intensity of pain increases over time and becomes fixed to lower right abdomen.
10. Hernia – Hernia is a condition in which an organ grows in excess pushing the muscle to create an opening in the tissue. Often, small intestine can break through a small opening projecting outside causing intense pain in the lower abdomen.
Intestinal Spasm : Types
Intestinal spasm can occur anywhere in the intestine and even on the colon. The colon contains muscles running lengthwise and in round shaped. Hence it can cause contraction of longitudinal spasm of muscle resulting in diarrhea and abdominal cramps. The person would have sudden urge to visit the toilet. And when the spasm develops in the circular muscle it can cause constipation. Type of muscle spasm would decide the course of bowel movement in many cases.
Often no testing is required for rare cases of bowel or intestinal spasms. But if you experience frequent spasm affecting routine activities of life, you can seek medical care. Your doctor may order for stool test to check any infection. He would order for colonoscopy and or CT test depending on the situation.
There is no need to treat bowel spasm if you had it occasionally. Based on the results of testing the doctor would treat the underlying disease or disorder.
- In case of IBS, diet modification is suggested.
- For treating constipation, additional fiber diet and fiber supplement is given.
- Bowel spasm caused by diarrhea can be managed by taking loperamide or similar medication.
- For severe cases of intestinal spasm prescription drugs like lubiprostone is given.
- Food allergy can be managed by avoiding such items.
- Regular exercise and healthy diet can help in overcoming stress and related symptom.