The colon, also known as the large intestine, is a part of the digestive tract.
The food that you eat is processed and absorbed in the stomach and the small intestine. The colon helps to reclaim the body water and absorb the nutrients in the leftover food.
The innermost part of the colon, called mucosa, is in direct contact with the food. Mucosa helps to absorb the water and electrolytes from the food into the blood.
With the removal of water, the undigested food gets condensed into waste products. These products are then transferred to the rectum and excreted out as fecal matter.
What is Infectious Colitis?
Colitis is an inflammation of the lining of the colon. Colitis may occur due to several reasons such as infections, inflammatory bowel disease, ischemic colitis, allergic reactions, etc.
Infectious colitis or colon infection is a broad term. It includes any bacterial, viral, and parasitic infections of the large intestine.
Of the various causes of colitis, infection is the most common occurrence. Colon infection is an important public health concern.
What are the Symptoms of Colon Infection?
Although the symptoms may vary based on the cause of infection, they typically include:
Severe infection may also present with:
- Diarrhea for more than ten to fifteen times a day
- Blood or pus in the stool
- Kidney failure
When Should I See a Doctor?
You should consult your doctor if you notice any of the symptoms mentioned above.
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What are the Causes of Infection of Colon?
Common pathogens responsible for colon infection include viruses, bacteria, and parasites.
- Bacterial causes: Following bacteria can commonly cause colon infection:
Some of the bacteria, such as Escherichia, are very infectious. Even a small number, when entered into the intestines, can cause an infection.
Another type of colon infection is pseudomembranous colitis. It occurs as a result of an overgrowth of the Clostridium difficile or the C. diff bacteria.
C. diff bacteria can cause an opportunistic infection of the colon. Generally, these bacteria coexist with the other bacterial fauna present in the colon. The use of antibiotics affects the fauna. It presents an opportunity for C. diff to take advantage and cause an infection.
- Viral causes: Viruses causing colon infections include:
- Parasitic causes: The most common parasite to cause a colon infection is Entamoeba histolytica. Drinking contaminated water is a potential source of a parasitic colon infection.
The spread of colon infections is usually through the fecal-oral route. Lack of sufficient sanitization and personal hygiene can cause pathogens (disease-causing organisms) in the fecal matter to enter the food you eat.
What are the Risk Factors of Colon Infection?
- Age: Children and infants are vulnerable to colon infections, as their immune systems are still developing. Also, the immune system becomes less efficient in older age, making older people more likely to develop colon infections.
- Compromised immunity: Decreased immunity provides a breeding ground in the intestines for bacterias and parasites. Opportunistic colon infections are more common if the person is immunocompromised.
- Underlying conditions: Underlying intestinal conditions such as inflammatory bowel disorder (IBD), ischaemic colitis, and colorectal cancer can damage the colon lining. It can leave the colon vulnerable to infections.
- Lower stomach acid content: The acid content in the stomach helps to destroy infectious pathogens. Medications like proton pump inhibitors reduce the acidity in the stomach. Overuse of these drugs can strip the body of the natural protective cover. The pathogens can travel down the digestive tract to cause an infection in the intestine and colon.
How is Colon Infection Diagnosed?
The diagnosis begins with a detailed history and symptomatic evaluation. Your doctor may recommend undergoing a stool test. A culture of the stools helps to identify the pathogen responsible for causing an infection in the intestines.
In cases with severe symptoms, the doctor may also prescribe a colonoscopy. The colon examination helps the doctor to look at the infected area of the colon.
If the doctor suspects any complication, they may advise a CT scan or an abdominal X-ray. It helps identify complications like colon wall thickening, colon distension, and bowel perforation.
What are the Treatment Options for Colon Infection?
Depending upon the pathogen responsible for the colon infection, the doctor will prescribe antibiotics. Antibiotics are, however, ineffective against viral causes of the infectious condition.
Oral rehydration and a bland diet can help restore the gut following severe diarrhea. Probiotics help in restoring the natural fauna in the intestines and prevent future risk of infection.
What are the Complications of Colon Infection?
- Dehydration: Severe diarrhea can result in the loss of electrolytes and water from the body. It can cause dehydration, affecting general health.
- Kidney failure: Dehydration can cause deterioration of kidney function. Decreased water absorption from the colon due to infection can overload the kidneys, and the sudden increase in kidney function may lead to kidney failure.
- Toxic megacolon: It is a rare complication in which the inability to pass gas or stool due to the infection is experienced. The colon gets distended. The distended colon is called a megacolon.
- Bowel perforation: Infection can cause damage to the lining of the colon walls and produce tears or bowel perforations. Extensive injury can cause the infection to spread into the abdominal cavity from the colon. It results in peritonitis (infection of the abdominal lining).
How Can I Prevent Colon Infection?
The infections of the colon spread through the fecal-oral route. You can take some measures to prevent the spread of pathogens.
- Prepare food in a clean environment.
- Drink clean water. Water treated with UV and other such agents can kill the infectious pathogens.
- Disinfect your surroundings regularly. An unclean environment can harbor several pathogens.
- Always wash your hands. Washing your hands before preparing, serving, and eating food will remove any surface bacteria.
- Avoid unnecessary use of antibiotics. Antibiotics can destroy the bacterial fauna of the colon, leaving you exposed to infections.
The colon can get infected with various bacteria, viruses, and also parasites. Mostly, the infections are self-limiting; however, complications can arise if ignored.
You can prevent colon infections with proper care and cleanliness.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
How to avoid colon infection when traveling?
It is easy to get infections while traveling. Ensure to eat at hygienic eateries, drink water from a sealed bottle, and wash hands before eating.
How long does infection last?
Colon infections usually last up to 7 days. In severe cases, it may also take 3 to 4 weeks to resolve.
What food should I avoid during colon infection?
Avoid fatty and spicy food if you have colon infections. Also, watch out for dairy products, caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, and processed sugary food.