Redundant colon, sometimes referred to as tortuous colon, is a term used to describe when someone has a colon that's longer than normal. In addition to the extra length, a redundant colon also has extra loops in it.
While the extra length doesn't appear to cause any health problems directly, it can lead to constipation. Because there's a greater travel distance through the colon, it takes longer for food and digested material to move from the mouth to the anus — a symptom called "slow transit time." While laxatives don't seem to improve constipation in those with slow transit time from tortuous colon, according to the November 2013 issue of Molecular Medicine Reports, diet changes may help.
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Symptoms of a Redundant Colon
Constipation is a common symptom that affects 16 percent of all adults and around 33 percent of adults over the age of 60. While most people think of constipation as an inability to go to the bathroom, it's also defined as passing only hard, small stools and a constant feeling that not all of your stool is out of your system.
According to Harvard Health Publishing, there are two major categories of constipation: sporadic and chronic. Sporadic constipation is the kind that develops occasionally during times when your diet changes, like on vacation, or when you're especially stressed out. On the other hand, chronic constipation persists for months to years and it can greatly affect your quality of life. While there are several underlying causes of chronic constipation, a redundant colon is one of them.
The only way to know for sure if you have a redundant colon is through imaging tests, like an ultrasound or an MRI, but if you suspect that your colon may be longer than normal, there are some identifying symptoms you can look for.
In addition to constipation, which is by far the most common symptom of redundant colon, according to a February 2018 report in the World Journal of Gastrointestinal Surgery, other symptoms, including non-specific ones, can develop too. Some of these symptoms include:
- General weakness
- Bouts of mild fever
- Pain, especially in the lower abdomen
- Bloating and stomach distention
- The presence of a tender mass, especially in the lower abdomen
Of course, the absence of these symptoms doesn't mean that you don't have a redundant colon. It's possible for constipation to be your only symptom, as well.
Redundant Colon and Fiber
One of the keys to alleviating constipation is making sure you get enough fiber in your diet. There are two major categories of fiber — soluble and insoluble — and while both can help get rid of constipation, it may be helpful to focus on getting more insoluble fiber.
According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, soluble fiber pulls water into the digestive tract and turns into a gel-like substance during digestion. This slows digestion down and decreases transit time. On the other hand, insoluble fiber adds bulk to your stool and speeds up transit time, which is the goal when you have redundant, or tortuous colon, and constipation. Sources of insoluble fiber include:
- Vegetables, like dark, leafy greens
- Fruits (especially the skin)
- Root vegetables (especially the skin), like potatoes and beets
- Whole grains
- Wheat bran
Although the bulk of your fiber intake should come from insoluble fiber, it's a good idea to get both forms in your diet. Sources of soluble fiber are:
- Oat bran
- Dried beans and peas
- Oranges and apples
Meet Your Fiber Needs
According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, men should aim for at least 38 grams of total fiber per day, while women should get at least 25 grams. While there are no set rules for how much should come from each type, Cleveland Clinic recommends that 10 to 15 grams are in the form of soluble fiber, which means the rest should come from insoluble fiber.
If your current diet is low in fiber, it's best to gradually add fiber to your diet over a period of a few weeks instead of drastically increasing the amount of fiber you eat from one day to the next. Adding too much fiber too quickly can cause uncomfortable symptoms, like stomach pain, gas and bloating. On the other hand, slowly increasing your intake gives your body time to adjust so that uncomfortable symptoms are less likely and you'll experience relief from constipation instead.
Read more: Top-Rated Fiber Supplements
Drink More Water
In addition to fiber, you need to make sure you get enough water. When you're dehydrated, your body pulls water out of your digestive tract to try to compensate. As a result, you're left with hard stool that's difficult to pass. However, when you're probably hydrated, your stool stays soft and bulky.
Water also helps the fiber do its job better, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. The exact amount of water you need depends on your activity level and the climate in your area, but you should aim for roughly 64 ounces a day.
If you want specific amounts, you'll have to work with a nutritionist who can figure out the numbers for you based on your individual characteristics. While plain water is always a good option, plain broths, broth-based soups and high-water content foods, like watermelon, oranges and cucumbers also count toward your daily fluid needs.
Foods to Avoid
In addition to including certain foods in your diet, it's also a good idea to avoid certain foods that are linked to an increased chance of constipation. Some of the biggest culprits are low-fiber foods such as:
- Potato chips
- Fast food
- Frozen foods
- Snack foods
- Processed foods, like hot dogs and packaged items
Cleveland Clinic also points out that keeping a food journal can be a helpful tool. Keep track of the foods you eat and take note of which foods seem to make your constipation worse. While there are some foods that are known to cause contribute to constipation in general, there might be other foods that you're sensitive to that make your individual situation worse.
If none of these dietary changes work, it may be time to check in with your doctor or a qualified nutritionist who can help you with other specific adjustments or treatment options.
- Cleveland Clinic: "Improving Your Health With Fiber"
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: "Soluble vs. Insoluble Fiber"
- University of Colorado–Colorado Springs: "Soluble Fiber vs. Insoluble Fiber"
- Molecular Medicine Reports: "Chronic Constipation and Treatment Options (Review)"
- International Journal of Colorectal Disease: "The Correlation Between Diverticulosis and Redundant Colon"
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: "Eating, Diet and Nutrition for Diabetes"
- Nutrition Reviews: "Acute and Chronic Effects of Hydration Status on Health"
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: "Fiber"
- World Journal of Gastrointestinal Surgery: "Dolichocolon Revisited: An Inborn Anatomic Variant With Redundancies Causing Constipation and Volvulus"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "The Lowdown on Constipation"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Constipation Management and Treatment"
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: "Definition and Facts for Constipation"
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.