Bet you haven't given your ascending colon much thought lately, right? (That's the first part of your large intestine, by the way.)
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But a lifestyle that promotes colon health is smart — and it's the same lifestyle that's good for your entire body, Yamini Natarajan, MD, assistant professor of gastroenterology at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, tells LIVESTRONG.com.
Plus, the rules are pretty simple: Eat a diet high in fiber and low in fat, and get regular exercise, Dr. Natarajan says.
However, many disorders can affect the digestive tract, which includes the esophagus and stomach, plus the small and large intestines. And some of those diseases may impair the way your ascending colon works.
Read on for more about the common conditions associated with this important part of the body.
1. Ulcerative Colitis
Ulcerative colitis is a disease that can affect the ascending colon and is characterized by inflammation and sores, or ulcers, that line the inner wall of the large intestine, says the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) of the National Institutes of Health. Such chronic irritation of the lining of the colon can cause ulcers to bleed or ooze pus.
Common signs of ulcerative colitis includes diarrhea with blood or pus, abdominal discomfort and frequent bowel movements.
Other symptoms associated with ulcerative colitis include:
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Joint pain
- Rectal bleeding
- Skin lesions
Although ulcerative colitis can occur at any age, it often first shows up between the ages of 15 and 30. Per the NIDDK, this condition is equally common in men and women and is seen more often in Caucasians and those of Jewish descent.
Seek medical evaluation if you have the above symptoms, especially if you also have an autoimmune disease, recommends Dr. Natarajan. "There are many treatment options for these conditions that can improve diarrhea and low energy levels, including oral medications like mesalamine, or IV medications like Remicade and Humira," she adds.
Diverticulitis is another disease that can affect the ascending colon. The Mayo Clinic describes diverticulitis as an inflammation of one or more of a person's gut diverticula — small pouches of the inner lining of the colon that push through the colon's muscular outer wall. (Dr. Natarajan likens them to potholes in a road.) Although diverticula can form at any point in the digestive tract, the most common location for diverticula is the colon.
Diverticula are common, particularly in people over the age of 40, according to the Mayo Clinic, and the presence of diverticula without symptoms is called diverticulosis. If diverticula begin causing problems, such as diverticulitis, you may experience excruciating abdominal pain, fever, nausea, loose stools and cramping pain.
Some cases of diverticulitis, especially mild ones, can be managed with rest, diet changes and certain types of medication, although more serious situations may require surgical intervention. "This condition can easily be treated with antibiotics, but, rarely, severe cases may be complicated by abscesses or fluid collections, and these may need treatment, IV antibiotics or surgery," notes Dr. Natarajan.
3. Crohn's Disease
Crohn's disease can affect any part of the digestive tract, often the ascending colon and the end of the small intestine. This chronic inflammatory disorder can affect all layers of the colon, and there is often normal, healthy bowel tissue between patches of affected or diseased bowel, according to the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation of America (CCFA).
The disease is commonly diagnosed in adolescents and young adults.
"Both Crohn's and ulcerative colitis are part of a class of disease called inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), which is a condition in which the immune system incorrectly targets the colon as a 'foreign' entity like a bacteria," explains Dr. Natarajan.
Common symptoms associated with Crohn's disease include the following:
- Abdominal pain and cramping
- Bloody stool
- Reduced appetite
The Mayo Clinic states that a person with severe Crohn's disease might also notice fever, fatigue, arthritis, eye inflammation and skin disorders.
There's no cure for Crohn's, but there are various treatment options for this condition, including anti-inflammatory drugs, immune system suppressors and antibiotics.
4. Colon Cancer
Colon cancer is the term people usually use to describe colorectal cancer, meaning cancer of the colon (which may include the ascending colon) or the rectum. According to the American Cancer Society, colorectal cancers are the third most common type of cancer in the U.S.
Risks for colon cancer include lifestyles factors, such as being overweight or being a smoker, as well as things people cannot change, such as genetics and family or personal history.
To reduce your risk, schedule an early screening. "The most important thing people can do is visit with their doctor to determine when they need to start screening, which is usually between the ages of 40 to 50, though sometimes younger if they have family members with cancer," explains Dr. Natarajan.
During the visit, you'll discuss options for colon cancer screening and choose between yearly stool testing, a CT scan that can be performed every five years or a colonoscopy every 10 years.
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: "Your Digestive System and How It Works"
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: "Ulcerative Colitis"
- Mayo Clinic: "Diverticulitis"
- Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America: "What is Crohn's Disease?"
- Mayo Clinic: "Crohn's Disease"
- American Cancer Society: "Key Statistics for Colorectal Cancer"