Diagnosing & treating colorectal diseases
January 29, 2023
Around here, we are fondly known to many as “The Butt Hut,” in part because we treat so much anorectal disease and do so many colonoscopies for patients. We have shared information about why there is nothing to fear with this procedure, and we’ve also talked a lot about colorectal cancer. But there’s another area of colon and rectal health, including a broad range of conditions and ailments that can be mildly irritating to life-threatening.
We know through research and studies that early screening and treatment of colon and rectal diseases can significantly improve treatment outcomes and survival rates. Because of embarrassment or lack of knowledge, many patients delay seeing a doctor or don't seek treatment at all.
We hope to shed some light on these colorectal diseases so that you will know more about them, be able to recognize symptoms, and feel more comfortable coming in to see us.
Colorectal diseases to know about
One tricky element to some colorectal diseases is that the symptoms can closely resemble those of other such diseases, so there is the potential for misdiagnosis and mistreatment. This is why it is so crucial that you seek help from experts in the surgical and nonsurgical treatment of colon and rectal problems, such as those at Alabama Colon and Rectal Institute.
Here is an overview of some major colon and rectal diseases and how they are treated:
- Ulcerative colitis -- This is an inflammatory disease of the large intestine (colon) that affects about 500,000 people. Symptoms include bleeding with bowel movements, abdominal pain or bloating, constipation, diarrhea, or a combination of all of these. To confirm the diagnosis, we may do a flexible sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy and take some biopsies of the colon wall to confirm the diagnosis. While there is currently no medical cure for ulcerative colitis, we can prescribe medicine to relieve symptoms, and surgery can be curative.
- Crohn's disease -- Crohn's disease is a chronic inflammatory condition primarily involving the intestinal tract. Crohn's is diagnosed through a physical examination, review of symptoms, and family history. Testing may include a sigmoidoscopy, colonoscopy, or radiographic studies. Medical treatment with anti-inflammatory or immunosuppressive medication to control symptoms is the preferred initial form of therapy, but surgery to remove the diseased segment of the bowel may be recommended in more advanced or complicated cases.
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) -- IBS is a common intestinal muscle functioning disorder involving constipation, diarrhea, bloating, pain, cramping or a combination of all. Because the symptoms of IBS closely resemble those of other, sometimes life-threatening diseases, such as colon cancer, we urge you to seek medical attention. Increasing the amount of liquids and bulk-forming foods in the diet to soften stools may provide relief, but if dietary change does not help, we may prescribe medications that help intestinal muscle contractions return to normal. In some IBS patients, mental health counseling and stress reduction can help relieve symptoms.
- Diverticular disease -- Diverticulosis affects about 50% of Americans by age 60 and nearly all by age 80. It is the presence of pockets (called diverticula) in the colon wall. Diverticulitis is inflammation or infection of these pockets. The condition is typically treated with a high-fiber, low-fat diet and occasionally by medications to control pain, cramps, and changes in bowel habits. Surgery is reserved for severe or recurrent diverticultitis.
- Hemorrhoids -- Hemorrhoids are one of the most common colorectal ailments, which we explore more in this blog post.
- Anal fissure -- An anal fissure is a small tear in the lining of the anus usually caused by a hard, dry bowel movement, diarrhea, or inflammation of the anorectal area. It's a common problem that affects a majority of the population at some point and is typically diagnosed with an examination following pain, bleeding and/or itching of the outer anus area. Up to 90% of all fissures heal by themselves with non-operative treatment. If a fissure doesn't heal due to scarring or muscle spasm of the internal anal sphincter muscle, surgery to reduce the pressure in the anal canal may be needed.
- Bowel incontinence -- This is the impaired ability to control gas or stool release due to a severed or weakened anal muscle caused by childbirth, old age, or other nerve or muscle injury. Diagnosis is made through examination of the affected area, often followed by a test to record pressure as a patient tightens the anal muscles, and an ultrasound probe to visualize muscle injury. Mild incontinence can be addressed by dietary changes, with the use of constipating medicine, and with home exercises to strengthen muscles.
As mentioned earlier, these diseases can be difficult to diagnose. If exhibiting any of the symptoms mentioned above, your best bet is to see a colon and rectal specialist. At Alabama Colon and Rectal Institute, we are experts at diagnosing and treating diseases of the colon and rectum and will be happy to take care of and treat you.
Alabama Colon & Rectal Institute is centered around treating diseases of the colon, rectum, and anus.
Alabama Colon & Rectal Institute (also known as the “Butt Hutt” around town!) has been in practice since 1990 as a free-standing, private practice located in downtown Birmingham, Alabama. We are known for our efficiency and patient care, in a more relaxed office-based setting. Our doctors are known regionally for their expertise and are active in teaching surgical residents and other physicians. We are also a major sponsor of The Rumpshaker 5K, a race that promotes awareness about colorectal cancer. Check out our website for more information, or give us a call to make an appointment at (205) 458-5000, or email us at [email protected].