A distended colon is a colon that has become greatly enlarged in size, giving rise to the alternate name of megacolon. Several factors can cause a distended colon, such as an intestinal obstruction in which the intestines become physically blocked and the surrounding tissue balloons outward as digestive contents continue to accumulate. Alternatively, nerve or muscle problems resulting in a condition called intestinal pseudo-obstruction can cause symptoms similar to an intestinal blockage, including distension of the colon. A distended colon can cause several symptoms.
A common symptom of a distended colon is abdominal pain. As the colon enlarges, either because of an obstruction or pseudo-obstruction, the stretching of the colon can cause pain and cramping. The abdomen can also become visibly distended, resulting in a large, protruding abdomen, the National Institutes of Health website MedlinePlus explains. The abdomen may also become very tender to touch.
Bowel Movement Changes
A distended colon is often accompanied by constipation, which can sometimes last for a long time. Constipation can result from colon distension that is caused by intestinal blockages or muscle and nerve problems. Although less common than constipation, a distended colon may cause diarrhea, reports the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse.
Nausea, Vomiting and Other Symptoms
Nausea also frequently occurs with a distended colon, an article published in the May 2005 issue of the journal "Clinics in Colon and Rectal Surgery" explains. Vomiting also frequently results from the nausea. If left untreated, a distended colon can cause repeated bacterial infections. Weight loss and malnutrition may also occur. Problems can also develop in other parts of the body, such as the bladder, esophagus or stomach, the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse reports.