What Causes Intestinal Spasms?

Irritable bowel syndrome is a common cause of intestinal spasms.
Stress and Irritable bowel syndrome can both lead to intestinal spasms.
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  • Written By: H. Colledge
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 09 July 2014
  • Copyright Protected:
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Intestinal spasms occur when the muscle of the gut contracts in an uncoordinated manner. As the movement, or motility, of the gut is regulated by muscles and nerves, emotional factors such as anxiety and stress can affect its function and may lead to intestinal spasms. Physical exercise, diet and certain drugs can also cause changes in gut movement. A common cause of intestinal spasms is the condition known as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), in which abdominal pain and bloating may be associated with diarrhea or constipation. Problems in which the gut is blocked, such as severe constipation, or the disorder known as intestinal pseudo-obstruction can also lead to spasms.

Normally, food is moved along the intestines by regular waves of contractions occurring in the muscles that make up the gut wall. When a problem causes the contractions to become excessive or abnormal, symptoms such as pain, bloating and intestinal spasms may be experienced. Depending on the specific cause, diarrhea or constipation may also occur. Drugs such as laxatives and some antidepressants can disturb the normal movement of the gut, and thyroid disorders may also affect gut motility. Stress can also have an effect, causing food to move more rapidly through the intestines.

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IBS is a common cause of altered gut motility and, when people are emotionally upset or stressed, symptoms are more likely to flare up. The disorder is not dangerous and is not associated with any damage to the intestines, but its cause remains unknown. Intestinal spasms are associated with symptoms of cramping abdominal pain, wind and an urgent need to open the bowels. Episodes of diarrhea, constipation or both may be experienced, and IBS tends to occur in phases which last for a few days. While no single effective treatment exists, lifestyle changes and drugs which relax muscle and prevent intestinal spasms can be helpful.

Intestinal pseudo-obstruction is a rare disorder associated with intestinal spasms. The gut fails to contract effectively so that food is not moved along normally, even though there is no actual blockage. Abdominal pain and swelling, nausea and tiredness may be experienced together with diarrhea or constipation.

Imaging scans show that the gut leading up to the immobile section is swollen, as it would be in the case of a real obstruction. Pain may be due to the gut being stretched or it could result from an intestinal spasm. Treatment can involve drugs, procedures which remove gas from the gut and, in severe cases, surgery.

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Discuss this Article

Monika
Post 7

It's good to know that an intestinal blockage can cause intestinal spasms. I've been having some stomach problems lately, so I'm going to keep this in mind if my doctor mentions irritable bowel syndrome, since the symptoms are pretty similar.

I'm also wondering if doctors do any kind of medical imaging when they diagnose someone with irritable bowel syndrome? I think it would make sense, just to rule out some kind of blockage.

JaneAir
Post 6

@myharley - I get intestine spasms from stress too. It's horrible. And like you said, intestine spasms can obviously necessitate a quick trip to the bathroom. This actually feeds my stress further, because then I'm stressed about my stomach as well as the original thing that was making me upset in the first place!

I find it interesting that stress and irritable bowel syndrome both cause the same symptoms though. Maybe there is some connection between the two?

strawCake
Post 5

@golf07 - My boyfriend gets intestinal spasms symptoms from dairy products as well. He used to have a tough time with it and he was forever accidentally eating stuff that has dairy in it (it's amazing how many food products have milk or cream in them that you wouldn't suspect of containing any dairy at all.)

One thing that helps my boyfriend with his symptoms is taking a probiotic supplement every day. He buys it at the local pharmacy and it's worked wonders for him. He takes two pills once a day and he can eat dairy without experiencing any problems!

honeybees
Post 4

It took awhile before my doctor diagnosed me with IBS. Because many of the symptoms are closely related to other problems, it was hard to get a definitive diagnosis.

Psychological factors also play a role in this problem, and it can be hard to separate the physical from the psychological.

I wanted to try some alternatives to medication so began making some changes to my diet. I also began taking some probiotics every day, and adding more fiber.

Peppermint is also helpful for IBS. I try to keep peppermints handy when I need them. Even though I still don't know the cause of my IBS, I have been able to notice improvement by making some simple changes.

golf07
Post 3

When I started having intestinal pain on a regular basis, I figured some kind of food I was eating was triggering this.

This is how I found out I was lactose intolerant and can't handle dairy products. Every time I began to have intestinal bloating or spasms, I would write down what I had just eaten.

I realized most every time I had consumed some kind of dairy product. One day I drank a whole glass of chocolate milk in just a few seconds. My stomach immediately began to cramp, and this is when I knew what my problem was.

andee
Post 2

@myharley - I had symptoms very similar to you and decided I needed to find a better way to deal with my stress.

This started with me when I had about 3 major things going on at the same time. I realized I didn't have much control over the outcome of the situations, but I could control how it affected me.

What has worked the best for me is exercise. I know it sounds a little crazy, that getting some exercise will help with something like small intestine spasms - especially when that might be the last thing you feel like doing.

What I found is this helped me get my mind off the situation and I felt empowered and energized instead of overwhelmed by everything. Even if I could go outside for a brisk walk, my stomach cramps seemed to go away once I had been walking for a few minutes.

Now I see this as my body telling me I am letting things get to me, and I need to counteract that with some healthy exercise.

myharley
Post 1

Stress seems to be the main reason I suffer from gastrointestinal problems. If I am under a lot of stress or need to make an important decision about something, I always have intestinal spasms.

Not only are these uncomfortable, but they can be embarrassing too. You never know how often you might need to run to the bathroom.

I try not to let things bother me so much, but don't seem to have a very good handle on it. I have never taken any medication for it because after a few days of worrying and stressing out, the symptoms go away.

Sometimes I might not even think I am very stressed about something until I realize I am having stomach problems. Then it usually dawns on me what it so heavy on my mind.

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