Twisting Bowel: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis & Treatments

Twisting bowel is caused when the natural shape of the intestines has changed or a section of the intestines overlap. It is also known as volvulus or colonic volvulus.

The bowel is a layman's term for the portion of the alimentary canal in the intestine. This area extends from the pyloric sphincter of the stomach down to the anus. In humans, this area consists of the small and large intestine. The small intestine is further divided into the jejunum, duodenum and ileum, and the large intestine is divided into the cecum, rectum and colon. These areas each work to break down food and absorb nutrients, transferring these nutrients to the blood stream where they can be shared with cells throughout the body.

If there is a change in the natural shape of the intestines, this can be known as a twisted bowel. A twist in the small intestine is referred to as a volvulus. Twists in the large intestine are known as a colonic volvulus. These abnormal twists or loops can cause an obstruction or other medical conditions which could be fatal. If signs of twisting bowel present, it is important to seek medical attention as quickly as possible.

Symptoms of Twisting Bowel

The most common symptoms include dizziness, nausea, vomiting, unexplained swollen stomach, constipation, bloating, and difficulty making a bowel movement and blood stool. Skin near the twist may be distended and tender. Some patients also report shortness of breath, intense fatigue or backaches when suffering from it.

Symptoms will vary based on the severity of the twist, the extent of the damage and the portion of the intestines affected. Symptoms may also come and go without causing medical damage. However, symptoms that go unchecked can cut off the nutrient blood or oxygen supply to the rest of the digestive tract. This is known as strangulation of the bowels. If unchecked, this can cause death of the surrounding cells, known as bowel necrosis.

Causes of Twisting Bowel

A twisted bowel is caused when the intestines fold over themselves. In some cases, they will untwist on their own, but many cases will require medical intervention. Infants born with twisting bowel or an intestinal malrotation are more likely to develop it later in life. Twists in the bowels may also occur after surgery on the abdomen.

  • Primary causes include gut mobility and poor diet.  These conditions are observed in children and adults. Colonic volvulus is also more common in pregnant women.
  • Secondary causes include underlying health concerns such as adhesions in the colon or redundant intestinal tissue. These causes are significantly more common in adults over the age of 40.

Diagnosis and Treatment of Twisting Bowel

Medical examinations

If you suspect that you are suffering from twisted bowel, your doctor will need to perform examinations to check for the condition. These may include a stool analysis, barium enema, a computed tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan. If your symptoms match other conditions that cause digestive distress, your doctor may opt to perform a laparotomy. This is a minimally invasive surgical procedure that is used to examine abdominal organs for damage.


Once it is determined, that you are suffering from it, you will likely need to undergo surgery to correct the problem. These surgical procedures are typically minimally invasive, and serve as a way to return the intestines to a natural position. In some cases, the affected section of intestines may be widened to avoid such complications occurring in the future. If the twist in the bowel is serious, your doctor may opt to remove the affected section to minimize the damage. After your surgery, you will need to take medications to minimize your risk of infections. Your doctor may also prescribe medication to help break down your food to avoid causing further irritation to the surgical site.

It is better to avoid the twisted bowel in the first place to avoid any discomfort, so you'd better keep drinking 8 glasses of water daily, choose to eat healthy, exercise regularly, and consider colon cleasening sometimes. 



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