The descending colon is located in the left portion of the abdomen and from there it is redirected in and downward. This part of the colon also connects the transverse colon to the sigmoid colon, both of which are immobile. The descending section, on the other hand, is capable of shifting slightly within the abdomen.
The descending colon is smaller than the ascending colon, which rises upward before transversing to the left of the abdomen and turning back down. It’s also placed deeper within the abdominal cavity than other sections.
Diseases of the Descending Colon
As with the other parts of the colon, there are a number of diseases affecting the descending colon. The most common of these conditions include ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, and colon cancer.
Ulcerative colitis can affect any part of the colon, and is referred to by different names depending upon that criterion. When it affects the descending colon and the splenic flexure, which is found at the corner of the descending and transverse colon, it is referred to left-sided colitis. If the disorder is allowed to take over the entire colon, the condition is called total colitis or pan-ulcerative colitis.
Ulcerative colitis develops in the mucosa of the colon and is characterized internally by inflammation of the colon and the development of ulcers on the intestinal lining. This causes the colon to ineffectively absorb salt and water. As a result, the following symptoms may develop:
- Excessive mucus in waste
- Bleeding (which can lead to anemia)
- Abdominal pain
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
Treatment for ulcerative colitis varies depending upon the severity of the disorder. In some cases, dietary changes can provide relief and prevent the disorder from worsening. In many cases, however, the affected portion of the colon will require corrective surgery.
As with ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease can affect various parts of the digestive system, including the descending colon. The condition is referred to as Crohn’s colitis when it affects various parts of the colon.
Lesions or sores on the mucosa characterize Crohn’s disease and these sores make it difficult for the mucosa to absorb salt and water. As a result, the intestinal wall and the mesentery, which contains lymph glands and blood vessels, also become inflamed. A number of symptoms may develop as a result:
- Abdominal pain (mild cramps or sharp pains)
- Blood in the stool (varying in color from red to black depending upon the origin site)
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Abscesses and fistulas
No cure for Crohn’s Disease exists, but the symptoms can be lessened through dietary improvements because certain foods can trigger the symptoms. Therefore, avoiding these foods can make the disorder tolerable. Surgical procedures can be performed to lessen the symptoms for a while.
Colon cancer can affect the descending colon also. In the majority of cases, however, colon cancer presents no symptoms. It’s important to receive routine colorectal examinations to catch the disease as early as possible as this enhances your chance of survival. Although colon cancer does not present symptoms, the following changes may potentially indicate the onset of digestive trouble:
- A sudden or drastic change in bowel habits, such as the amount of stool produced or its consistency
- Rectal bleeding or bloody stool (typically bright red if the cancer is closer to the anus or darker if originating within the colon)
- Mucus in the stool
- Tarry, black stool
- Bowel obstruction or chronic constipation
Other possible signs of colon cancer include anemia, weakness, and unexplained weight loss, though these symptoms occur more often when cancer develops in the ascending rather than the descending portion of the colon.
The Importance of Maintaining Colon Health
Since the symptoms of the various diseases affecting the descending colon and other parts of the digestive system are so similar, it’s important to see a doctor for proper examination and diagnosis. Proper diagnosis usually involves the process of elimination since many digestive disorders do not have a conclusive test for determining their existence. Rather, the doctor must rely on your medical history and responses to different treatment plans. However, getting your digestive system back on track is the paramount concern. Without optimal digestive health, the rest of your body systems can suffer from lack of nutrition and begin to break down. An unclean colon can lead to painful and inconvenient disorders like chronic constipation, bad breath and body odor, persistent fatigue, and even severe headaches and joint inflammation. Therefore, maintaining a cleaner colon through proper diet, hydration, regular exercise, and sleeping well every night is critical for preserving overall vitality and feelings of good health!