Polyps are small growths that form in your colon, or large intestine, which is a long tube at the end of your digestive track responsible for making and storing stool. While the vast majority of colon polyps are benign, some may turn cancerous over time so it is important to screen for them if you have any risk factors.
Most colon polyps do not cause any symptoms and are discovered during routine screens for colon cancer or examinations for other conditions. However, some larger polyps may produce signs such as constipation or diarrhea, rectal bleeding, or blood in the stool. It is important that you see a doctor if you exhibit these symptoms.
Causes and Risk Factors
Colon polyps are the result of abnormal cell growth. Risk factors for developing polyps include:
- Age (people over 50 year old are more likely to have polyps)
- Gender (polyps are seen more often in men than women)
- Family or personal history of polyps
- Inflammatory intestinal diseases (such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease)
- Smoking cigarettes
- Eating a diet high in fatty foods
- Drinking alcohol
- Carrying excess weight
- Not exercising regularly
Most polyps are found during routine screens, which is recommended for people over 50 or with other risk factors. Diagnostic screens include the digital rectum exam, colonoscopy, flexible sigmoidoscopy, fecal occult blood test, and barium enema. Each technique has its own benefits and risks, so it is a good idea to talk to your physician about them.
Polyps are usually removed during colonoscopies or sigmoidoscopies. If they are too large to be safely extracted during these procedures, laproscopic or traditional surgery might be necessary to remove them. Once removed, they will be examined by a pathologist who will determine whether they are benign or malignant.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a common intestinal condition that affects up to 20% of Americans and can cause abdominal pain, bloating, cramping, gas, diarrhea, and constipation. It is a complex disorder that often grows worse with emotional stress. However, it can be controlled with stress management, diet, and medication. IBS does not lead to intestinal inflammation or damage nor does it increase your risk of cancer.
Symptoms vary significantly from person to person. People who suffer from IBS may exhibit any or all of the following signs at different times:
- Abdominal pain
- Diarrhea or constipation - people with IBS may also experience alternating bouts of constipation and diarrhea
- Mucus in the stool
- A sense that you have not completely emptied your bowels
Causes and Risk Factors
The cause of IBS is unknown, but some researchers believe it might be due to miscommunication between the central nervous system and the digestive system. Others think it might be due to changes in the nerves governing intestinal muscle contractions. Because women experience IBS much more frequently than men, it is also possible that hormones play a role.
Additional risk factors include sensitivity to certain foods, a low-fiber diet, high levels of stress, use of laxatives, and a bout with infectious diarrhea or other temporary bowel inflammation.
IBS is usually diagnosed based on the symptoms you present in conjunction with your medical history and a physical exam. While there is no test for IBS, your physician may want to perform other diagnostics to rule out diseases that have the same or similar symptoms.
While there is no definitive cure for IBS, it can be controlled through medical treatment and lifestyle changes. Medications may include fiber supplements, laxatives, anti-diarrheals, intestinal relaxants, anticholinergics, or antidepressants, depending on your specific symptoms. Lifestyle changes such as reducing stress levels, avoiding triggering foods, increasing dietary fiber, and getting regular exercise are an important part of IBS management. If stress plays a large role in your life and your IBS, you might want to investigate counseling as a way to lower stress levels.
Ulcerative colitis is a disease that causes inflammation and ulcers in the lining of the colon and rectum. Inflammation irritates the colon and may kill cells in the colon's lining; ulcers (open sores) then develop in those spots. Inflammation can also cause the colon to empty more frequently and produce diarrhea. Ulcerative colitis may be limited to the rectum or it may extend to the entire colon. The size of the affected area usually correlates to the severity of the disease in an individual. Some people may only experience a few attacks with mild symptoms, while others have chronic and severe flare-ups throughout their lives.
A member of the inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) family, ulcerative colitis affects over 500,000 Americans. It can be extremely painful and some people develop life-threatening complications. People with ulcerative colitis also have an increased risk of developing colorectal cancer. While there is no cure for ulcerative colitis, there are effective treatments that can help patients manage and reduce their symptoms.
The primary signs of ulcerative colitis are severe abdominal pain, rectal bleeding, and diarrhea. Other symptoms include:
- Urgent bowel movements
- Tenesmus (the inability to move the bowels despite a strong urge to do so)
- Weight loss
- Appetite loss
- Dehydration and shock (these are rare but sometimes do occur in severe cases)
Causes and Risk Factors
There is no known cause of ulcerative colitis, but research indicates that there may be a hereditary link as this disease tends to run in families. Some experts believe that a virus or bacteria may play a role, and that the disease develops when the immune system attacks the pathogen and inflames the colon as a result. Antibiotics that disrupt the normal bacterial balance of the digestive system may also trigger ulcerative colitis.
Risk factors include:
- Environmental effects (rates of the disease tend to be higher in urban and industrial environments)
- Family history of colitis
- Ethnicity (people of Caucasian and Jewish backgrounds develop colitis more often)
- Age (ulcerative colitis generally strikes people in their 30s, although it can develop at any age)
After taking a medical history, performing a physical exam, and discussing your symptoms, your doctor may perform diagnostic tests to pinpoint your condition including:
- Blood tests
- Stool analysis
- Colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy
- Barium enema
- Abdominal x-ray
These tests will allow your physician to rule out other diseases and confirm the presence of ulcerative colitis.
Because there is no cure for ulcerative colitis, the goal of treatment will be to reduce the number of attacks, ease the symptoms of these attacks, and promote healing of the colon. Medications such as anti-inflammatory drugs and immune system suppressants will help reduce the incidence of colitis flare-ups. You may also need to treat symptoms by taking anti-diarr
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