Good Health and Bad Medicine:
Carsickness And Seasickness
Constipation - Part 1
Constipation - Part 2
'gas' And Bloating
Alkalizers And Acidosis
Diet - Part 1
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( Originally Published 1940 )
"COLITIS" means only inflammation of the colon, al-though it has been misapplied to designate any disorder of the colon accompanied by colic, gas, constipation or diarrhea. As with constipation, the causes of colitis can be classified into two groups—organic and functional.
The organic type of colitis may be caused by germs or poisons. Sometimes the germs are known, as, for example, those of dysentery or tuberculosis. More often the germ or causative agent is unknown, as in so-called "chronic ulcerative colitis." In this variety of colitis there are well-defined symptoms and signs which point to organic disease of the colon, but no specific cause can be found. In any organic colitis, X-ray examination of the colon and direct inspection with an instrument introduced into the colon will reveal unmistakable evidence of disease.
In the functional variety of colitis, there is no such clear-cut evidence of disease of the colon. The signs and symptoms are often so evanescent and intermittent, and seem so closely bound up with psychic difficulties of the patient that the designation "colitis" is hardly warranted.
Most of those with so-called nervous colitis have been troubled with constipation for many years before they got the "colitis." They may have experimented with a variety of cathartics, enemas and diets, and finally found some laxative or food which gave them daily "regular" movements. They did not know that their obsession for a daily and regular movement was costing them their health. Then, when they found mucus in the stool, they diagnosed their condition as colitis. If they chanced to read some advertisement for a "colon laundry," they sometimes completed the treatment by submitting to colonic irrigations.
The matter of mucus in the stool requires closer examination. For it is upon this finding that the misleading diagnosis of "mucous colitis" is so often made. The entire digestive tract—mouth, throat, esophagus, stomach, small intestine,-colon and rectum—is lined by a layer of tissue known as mucous membrane. The main functions of the mucous membrane are to secrete juices (saliva, stomach juice) and to absorb vital materials from the food. As the name suggests, another function of the membrane is to secrete mucus. The mucus acts as a protection for the delicate cells which make up the membrane. The mucous membrane of the colon is no exception. In addition to protecting the delicate cells of the wall of the colon, the mucus also acts as a lubricant to facilitate the passage of waste material.
It is well known that if any mucous membrane is irritated, more mucus will be secreted, as a defense against the irritant. The process is almost identical to that which goes on when a foreign body irritant enters the eye and tears are secreted to wash out the irritation.
Suppose, for example, that true constipation has developed and the stools have become hard and dry. The hard dry stool collects in the pelvic colon or rectum and may act as an irritant to the mucous membrane. The membrane immediately secretes excess mucus, and the stool becomes covered with a thin layer of it to facilitate the smooth passage of the stool through the rectum and narrow anal canal. The presence of mucus, therefore; is not a sign of colitis, but rather an indication that the mucous membrane has been irritated and has responded, as any healthy mucous membrane does, by the secretion of mucus.
Suppose that a purgative is taken. The drug as a rule irritates the entire lining of a sensitive colon, and mucus is secreted in order to protect the membrane from damage. Consequently, the loose stool which is passed often contains an excess of mucus. Here, too, the secretion of mucus is simply an attempt of the mucous membrane to protect itself from an irritant. Enemas may have the same effect, particularly those containing irritants such as soapsuds, turpentine, or potassium permanganate.
When irritating, indigestible food residues reach the colon, they also can cause an excessive secretion of mucus in those persons with irritable colons, or with nervous, hyper-sensitive bowels, even though no cathartic, enema or roughage has been taken. Here, too, the mucus is not a sign of inflammation, or colitis, but simply an individual idiosyncrasy.
An excessive secretion of mucus may also be due to hyper-sensitivity to a specific food. There are many foods which can do this to susceptible individuals, and it may be necessary to submit to a carefully worked out diet in order to determine whether food sensitivity is responsible for the appearance of mucus.
That the presence of mucus in the stool is no indication of the existence of colitis an be further proved by a direct inspection of the colon 'th an instrument known as' the sigmoidoscope. When colitis is not present, the mucous member will appear soft and of normal color, despite the fact that a good deal of mucus may have been passed.
When mucus is accompanied by the appearance of pus or blood it is likely that a true colitis, or inflammation of the colon, is present. A physician is care is then imperative.