Posted in Psychology & Medicine

Viscera: Large Intestine

(Learn more about the organs of the human bodies in other posts in the Viscera series here:

The final destination of food travelling through the digestive tract is the large intestine, or colon. It is the site where digested food is transformed into faeces, ready for excretion. The large intestine is much shorter than the small intestine – roughly 1.5m in length. Unlike the small intestine which is relatively free and mobile, the colon is fixed to the abdominal wall. It starts in the lower-right corner of the abdomen in a pouch called the caecum (connected to the small bowel). This is where the appendix is located. The colon then ascends the right-side of the abdomen (ascending colon) all the way to the diaphragm, does a 90-degree turn to the left (transverse colon) until it hits the spleen, then goes downwards to the lower-left corner (descending colon). Here, the colon bends into an S-shape towards the centre (sigmoid colon) until it ends as the rectum, which opens out to the anus. The colon essentially frames the contents of the abdomen.

The colon’s main function is the absorption of water and salts from the food that has been processed by the small bowel. As it sucks out the water in this liquid, it becomes more and more solidified. The brown colour of normal stool comes from bile and bilirubin (from the breakdown of red blood cells) secreted by the liver into the duodenum. For this reason, biliary obstruction (e.g. due to gallstones) causes pale stool and dark urine (overflow). Stool also contains undigested material like fibre, giving it bulk. Because it is at the end of the digestive tract, stool can be used to diagnose many diseases, such as an infection in the gut (bacterial, viral or parasitic).

The colon is a common site for cancer to occur in. Because there is room to grow, colon cancers are often found late when they have already spread and is incurable. The key symptoms of colon cancer are bloody stool (although this can be due to many reasons such as haemorrhoids), worsening constipation, anaemia (from blood loss causing iron deficiency), change in bowel habit and general symptoms of cancer (e.g. weight loss, fatigue).

(Appearance of colon cancer on colonoscopy)

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