Colon polyps are small, fleshy growths that form in the lining of the large intestine. Though many people with colon polyps do not experience symptoms, there is a chance that they can cause pain. While it is not common for colon polyps to cause discomfort, it is important to understand the possible side effects so you can respond promptly should any symptoms appear.
In this article, we discuss what colon polyps are and suggest when to seek medical attention if you experience pain or other abnormal sensations.
What are Colon Polyps?
Colon polyps are small growths that form on the lining of the large intestine (colon) or rectum. They are very common and are generally non-cancerous, though some can become cancerous over time. Polyps range in size from several millimeters to a few centimeters and can vary in shape and texture. In most cases, they cause no symptoms, but may cause pain or bleeding when irritated or inflamed.
Polyps can sometimes be seen during routine screening exams such as flexible sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy; however, they usually do not cause any discomfort during the procedure. When a polyp is identified by imaging studies such as X-rays or CT scans, it may cause a mild ache in the lower abdomen but should not be painful enough to interfere with normal activities.
It is important to remember that colon polyps do not always cause symptoms or discomfort and should not be ignored if found during a doctor’s visit or exam as some forms of polyp can become cancerous over time. If you experience any signs of pain related to your colon polyps, consult your doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment.
Causes of Colon Polyps
Colon polyps are growths on the inside walls of the colon that can cause a range of health issues. Generally, colon polyps are noncancerous, but they can still grow and become cancerous if not treated properly.
Let’s look into the causes of colon polyps and any symptoms associated with them.
While the exact cause of colon polyps is not yet known, it is understood that genetics plays a significant role in their development. Hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC) and familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) are two genetic syndromes that have been linked to an increased risk of developing colon polyps.
People with HNPCC are at higher risk for developing colorectal cancer, especially when they develop more than 25 colon polyps or if their condition is detected at a later stage. People with FAP typically develop multiple, small-sized polyps in the large intestine at an early age. Both of these conditions represent only a small percentage of total diagnosed cases of colon polyps. However, they provide insight into the influence that genetics has on abnormal growths and conditions within the digestive tract.
In some situations, lifestyle factors may be associated with higher rates of colorectal cancer and its precursor lesions such as large or numerous colonic polyps including:
- High fat diets
- Sedentary lifestyles
- Heavy alcohol intake
Research also suggests that certain supplements such as calcium may help reduce the development and recurrence of certain types of benign (noncancerous) tumors including adenomas which are relatively common types of benign tumors in individuals who do not carry any specific mutation associated with FAP or HNPCC.
Changes in diet may help reduce the risk of developing colon polyps, as well as to reduce the risk for recurrence. Eating a more balanced diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains and other high-fiber foods should be considered when trying to avoid colon polyps.
In addition, individuals should limit their intake of red and processed meats which are believed to increase the risk of developing colon polyps. Consuming a variety of fish and limiting refined carbohydrates can also help reduce the chance of forming these abnormal growths. Finally, cutting back on alcohol consumption may also help decrease your likelihood of developing colon polyps.
Age is the most common factor that contributes to the development of colon polyps. Those who are over the age of 50 are more likely to be diagnosed with one or more colon polyps than those who are younger. The risk increases further with age, as people over 75 often have colon polyps present in their colons. This is due to the natural aging process and deterioration of the body’s cells and tissues that occurs over time, leading to abnormal growths in sensitive areas like the colon.
Other risk factors for colon polyps include:
- Family history
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Low-fiber diet
Symptoms of Colon Polyps
Colon polyps are growths that can form on the inside wall of the large intestine and rectum. These growths are usually noncancerous but can lead to various symptoms such as abdominal pain, rectal bleeding, and changes in bowel habits.
In this section, we will discuss the symptoms of colon polyps and how they can be treated.
Abdominal pain is one of the most common signs of colon polyps and can vary in severity. Generally, the pain is experienced in the lower abdomen, but can also occur on the left side when associated with colonic diseases. Some may have a mild discomfort or a throbbing sensation while others experience severe cramping or sharp pains that worsen with time.
In most cases, abdominal pain associated with colon polyps is relieved after they are removed, but it may take some time for all the symptoms to resolve. If you are experiencing any type of abdominal pain that persists for more than a few days, it is important to seek medical attention so that your doctor can evaluate your condition and determine whether or not you have colon polyps.
Rectal bleeding is often the most visible symptom of colon polyps, which are growths inside the inner lining of the large intestine. Blood can make its way into the toilet bowl, or it may be seen as streaks on toilet paper. In some cases, rectal bleeding can cause anemia in severe cases and athletes are at a higher risk for this if they over-exert themselves more than usual.
Other accompanying symptoms associated with rectal bleeding can include:
- Abdominal cramping and bloating
- Constipation or diarrhea
- Pain during bowel movements
It is important to see a healthcare provider if you experience any rectal bleeding; they will be able to diagnose the underlying cause and recommend an appropriate treatment plan.
Changes in Bowel Habits
Changes in bowel habits can be a sign of colon polyps and other digestive issues. If you experience any changes in frequency, consistency, or appearance of your bowel movements that persist or have accompanied other unusual symptoms, it is important to talk to your doctor. While not always indicative of colon polyps or other serious conditions, changes in bowel habits should not be ignored and should be evaluated by a medical professional.
Changes in bowel habits that may indicate an issue with the colon include:
- Unexplained constipation (passing fewer than three stools per week)
- Diarrhea lasting longer than two days
- Stools that are unusually hard or soft
- Stools with an unusually foul smell
- Stool littered with mucus
- Unexplained weight loss
- Rectal itching or bleeding
Diagnosis of Colon Polyps
Colon polyps are typically asymptomatic, meaning they often do not cause any noticeable symptoms. However, depending on their size and location, they can cause abdominal pain and discomfort, diarrhea, and rectal bleeding.
To diagnose a colon polyp, a doctor may use imaging tests, endoscopy, or a biopsy to determine the presence of any abnormal growths. Let’s look at some of these diagnostic methods and what they entail:
Colonoscopy is the most commonly used diagnostic test for colon polyps. It is an outpatient procedure that involves passing a long, flexible endoscope (a thin, lighted tube) through the anus and rectum into the colon. This procedure allows the doctor to look directly at your colon’s lining while they guide the scope using a monitor. Images of the colon’s lining may be taken if any abnormalities or polyps are detected.
A biopsy sample may be taken from any abnormal tissue for further testing. This usually does not hurt, as it only takes a few seconds and does not involve needles or cutting of any kind. The entire procedure usually takes about 30 minutes and may take longer depending on how many polyps are found and need to be removed.
During a colonoscopy you will not feel pain, although some drowsiness or mild discomfort is common following sedation or air pumped into your abdomen during on-site removal of larger polyps.
A CT scan, also known as computed tomography or a CAT scan, is an imaging test that uses x-rays to create pictures of the inside of your body. This type of scan is often used to diagnose colon polyps, which are growths on the inner wall of your large intestine (also called the colon). The CT scan will produce cross-sectional images from many different angles that can be combined to show a 3D view of your entire large intestine.
In addition to helping diagnose colon polyps, a CT scan may help identify the presence and severity of any underlying diseases such as rectal tumors, abscesses, or blockages in the intestines. It can also be used to evaluate any pain you may be experiencing in your abdomen and make sure it is not caused by cancer or other serious conditions. In some cases, doctors may use a CT scan as part of pre-operative planning if they need to perform surgery on your large intestine or colon.
Biopsy is the preferred method for diagnosis. If a colon polyp looks suspicious during a colonscopy, then endoscopists can perform in-office biopsy to check for any abnormal tissue. During a biopsy, the endoscopist will use an injection of air or saline to gently separate a small section of the colon polyp away from the surrounding tissue and then use special instruments to remove it. This sample is then sent to a pathology lab to be examined under a microscope by pathologists who are trained to look for abnormal cells that could indicate colorectal cancer.
For some patients, additional tests such as tumor markers may be performed in order to provide more information about the type and progression of any associated tumors that may be present at the time of diagnosis. In addition, imaging techniques such as computed tomography (CT) or ultrasound may also help diagnose colon polyps by identifying abnormalities on internal images of organs and tissues.
Finally, doctors may order blood tests such as a complete blood count (CBC) if they suspect that there is an infection present or if they need additional information about other potential health risks associated with colon polyps.
Treatment of Colon Polyps
Colon polyps are abnormal growths of tissue in the lining of the large intestine that may be benign, meaning they are not cancerous, or they may be precancerous. The most common treatment option for colon polyps is to remove them during a procedure called a colonoscopy. However, treatment may also depend on whether or not the polyps are causing pain.
Let’s take a closer look at the treatment options available for colon polyps:
Polypectomy is a procedure to remove polyps from the colon. It is a common procedure for detecting, diagnosing and preventing colon cancer. During polypectomy, a thin, flexible tube is inserted into the rectum and threaded through the entire large intestine. A camera attached to the tube allows the doctor to view any polyps on a monitor while they are being removed.
The doctor may use a variety of tools to remove the polyp(s):
- Small grasping forceps called snares
- High-powered laser beam
The goal of removing these lesions is to identify potentially harmful polyps, so they can be biopsied as well as destroyed or removed in their entirety to prevent them from becoming cancerous.
Removing colon polyps usually does not cause any pain because sedatives are used and most procedures require only local anesthesia. Additionally, most polypectomies take less than fifteen minutes and can be performed in an outpatient setting with minimal recovery time involved.
Endoscopic Mucosal Resection
Endoscopic Mucosal Resection (EMR) is a technique used to remove large polyps during colonoscopy. The procedure involves removing part of the colon wall, along with the polyp, through suction and electric current. This procedure can be done as an outpatient procedure and is generally considered safe and effective when it comes to removing polyps from the colon.
The goal of EMR is to remove the entire polyp without causing any damage to the surrounding healthy tissue. During the procedure, a device known as an endoscope is inserted into the colon and tiny tools are used to remove the polyp from its roots. It’s important for doctors to be very careful during this process in order to prevent excessive bleeding, which could lead to further complications.
The EMR technique offers some distinct advantages:
- It can be relatively painless since only local anesthesia is used on most occasions;
- It reduces risk of infection by removing bacteria which can be found near or around the polyp;
- It allows doctors a more complete removal of larger polyps;
- It helps ensure that cancerous cells that may have been contained in or around smaller polyps are not allowed to spread, thereby reducing risks of further complications associated with cancerous growths in other parts of the body;
- In some cases, EMR may make surgery unnecessary when it comes to removing larger Colon Polyps or other growths in your digestive system;
Overall, Endoscopic Mucosal Resection presents one of the best methods available today for dealing with large colorectal growths including Colon Polyps. With improved imaging technology and better tools for performing this type of procedures, doctors are now even better equipped than ever before in offering their patients more efficient surgical solutions without having them undergo more invasive surgical procedures such as partial colectomies or abdominal surgery. Cancerous cells that may have been contained within these larger (benign) Colorectal growths are now caught early through regular screenings and efficiently removed using less invasive forms of surgery.
Cryotherapy refers to a medical treatment that involves the use of extreme cold temperatures to damage and destroy abnormal cells. In the case of colon polyps, cryotherapy uses a probe inserted through a colonoscope to freeze and remove them.
Cryotherapy is generally pain-free and works by freezing the polyp in just a few minutes, which effectively kills abnormal tissue while leaving healthy tissue undamaged. Treatment is usually done during an outpatient procedure or hospital stay with no recovery time, although some patients may experience bloating or cramping after treatment as well as mild discomfort when the probe is inserted.
Cryotherapy is especially effective for treating small tumors or polyps located near the surface. It can also be used for larger tumors or deeper lesions with some additional preparation and care from an experienced doctor.
Prevention of Colon Polyps
Colon polyps can be easily prevented with some lifestyle changes. There are some dietary modifications, regular physical exercise, and preventive screenings that can help reduce the risk of developing colon polyps.
This article will discuss the prevention of colon polyps and how to reduce the chances of developing them:
Maintaining a healthy diet is important for prevention and treatment of colon polyps. Eating a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins can help reduce your risk for developing polyps. It’s also important to limit or exclude processed foods, such as pre-packaged ones with added salt or sugar, from your diet as these have been linked to an increased risk of developing polyps. Additionally, you should minimize red and processed meats as they contain compounds that can increase the risk of polyp growth.
Making sure to get enough fiber in your diet is also essential for colon health as it helps keep you regular and easier passage allows for regular examination of the internal lining during bowel movements–allowing earlier detection of polyps if they do arise.
Regular exercise is an important lifestyle factor in the prevention of colon polyps. A moderate amount of aerobic activity, such as brisk walking, jogging, swimming, or cycling can reduce the risk of developing colon polyps. Muscle-strengthening exercises such as squats and lunges also benefit your intestines and improve overall health. In addition to helping prevent colon polyps, regular exercise helps to reduce stress levels, maintain a healthy weight and many other health benefits.
It’s recommended that adults get at least 150 minutes a week of physical activity to help ward off chronic diseases like certain types of cancer, heart disease and diabetes. This can be done in 30-minute increments throughout the week or one long session every 7 days. The key is consistency—set up an exercise schedule that works for you and stick with it! Work with your doctor if needed to find a plan that fits your individual needs.
Avoid Smoking and Alcohol
A healthy lifestyle is a key factor in reducing your risk of developing precancerous and cancerous colon polyps. Eliminating certain unhealthy habits can be beneficial when it comes to reducing the risk of colon polyps.
Avoiding tobacco use and limiting alcohol consumption can go a long way towards preventing the growth of colon polyps. The use of tobacco products has been linked to an increased risk for many kinds of cancer, including colon cancer. Additionally, people who drink alcohol heavily, or who consume more than two drinks per day, are at an increased risk for development of colon polyps. Quitting smoking and limiting alcohol consumption to less than two drinks per day may reduce your risk for colon polyps and other kinds of colorectal cancer.
Maintaining a healthy weight is also very important in preventing the development of colorectal neoplasia (abnormal growth), including polyps formation. Eating a balanced diet that is low in fat and rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains can help reduce your chances for developing troubling conditons like precancerous or cancerous polyps as well as other diseases related to obesity. Regular exercise can also help keep obesity at bay, which in turn may decrease the risk of developing any kind of precancerous or cancerous condition such as those found on the lining of your large intestine (colon).
The conclusion drawn from the research is that colon polyps are typically not associated with any pain. There are a few cases in which they may cause discomfort, but the majority of individuals with polyps will be completely unaware of their presence.
It’s always a good idea to undergo colon screening when recommended by a physician and to report any symptoms such as change in bowel habits, chronic constipation, abdominal pain or rectal bleeding.
If you are diagnosed with colon polyps and experience any pain, contact your health-care provider right away for further evaluation.