What is Acute Colitis and What Are Its Symptoms?
Acute colitis refers to inflammation of the colon (a part of the large intestine) that appears in few hours to days after irritation as:
- Sudden left or right side abdominal pain or cramps
- Urgency to have a bowel movement
- Diarrhea (loose bowel movements)
- Stomach swelling (bloating)
- Sometimes: bowel bleeding, fever, nausea, vomiting
Causes of Acute Colitis
The causes of acute colitis include:
- Food poisoning with bacteria, where symptoms appear in 12-72 hours thereafter, or with parasites, where symptoms may appear weeks later. This is infectious colitis and may appear as traveler’s diarrhea. If blood appears in the stool, antibiotics are usually prescribed.
- Antibiotics that kill normal bowel bacteria thus enabling overgrowth of a harmful Clostridium difficile bacteria.
- Investigations like barium enema or colonoscopy may cause inflammation of the colon that is usually mild and resolves by itself in few days.
- Blood clot in abdominal artery, usually in persons after 50 with long term diabetes or heart disease, appears with sudden, severe abdominal pain and bloody mucus. Urgent medication to dissolve the blood clot is needed, otherwise a part of the colon may be permanently damaged and has to be removed by surgery.
- Infection of colonic diverticles, commonly in constipated persons is called diverticulitis that is treated with antibiotics.
- Blockage of the colon from severe constipation, or colon narrowing that is common in Crohn’s disease.
How is Acute Colitis Diagnosed?
Doctor can suspect colitis from the history of having a suspicious meal (food poisoning), or recent use of antibiotics, and so on.
Body examination may reveal distended stomach, and tenderness on ttion)he left or right side of the stomach
Blood test usually show elevated leukocytes.
Stool test may reveal bacteria or parasites, and Hemoccult test often shows blood in the stool.
Treatment of Acute Colitis
Treatment of colitis depends on the cause, and may include diet, antibiotics, or rarely (in colon obstruction or perforation), an urgent surgery.
Article reviewed by Dr. Greg. Last updated on May 23, 2009