Intestinal colic is severe abdominal pain associated with malfunction in the intestines, such as a blockage or air bubble the patient cannot pass. It should not be confused with colic in babies, where the term “colic” is used generally to refer to a baby who is fussing more than usual, possibly because of intestinal colic but also because of other reasons. In addition, humans are not the only creatures affected by colic. The condition is common in horses, where it can be fatal if not treated promptly and aggressively.
An episode of intestinal colic can start with a sharp twinging sensation in the abdomen. Depending on the cause, there may be an urge to defecate and constipation can occur. Patients may be inclined to lie down or squat to relieve the pain, and it will become increasingly painful over time as the abdomen becomes rigid, hot, and swollen. Causes of this condition can include blockages caused by foreign objects or torsion, where intestines loop around each other.
A medical imaging study of the abdomen will show a blockage in the intestines and can also reveal the presence of trapped gas or stool. Palpation of the abdomen may be used to determine the source of the pain and check for tell-tale signs of conditions like appendicitis, which a patient may confuse with colic initially. With more information about the intestinal colic in hand, a doctor can develop a treatment recommendation for the patient, with the goal of addressing the pain while also treating the underlying cause. This may include surgery, the use of careful stretches and poses to address displaced intestines, or medications.
Causes of intestinal colic can vary. Sometimes people develop this condition as a result of swallowing air while eating or consuming high volumes of fermented food. Issues like torsion and displacement can happen spontaneously. Once someone has recovered from this type of colic, a mild diet is usually recommended to rest the intestines. Patients who experience repeat episodes may be advised to make permanent lifestyle and diet changes to prevent recurrence of colic.
In horses, intestinal colic is recognizable in the form of acute and obvious discomfort. The horse may try to lie down or lean, and can nip at the abdomen. Behavioral changes including lethargy or aggression sometimes occur. It is important to get colic treatment promptly for horses, as this condition can become very dangerous in a short period of time. The intestines may rupture, leading to peritonitis and death for the animal.