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What Is the Caecum?

The caecum is where the large and small intestines intersect.
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  • Written By: Bobby A. Stocks Jr.
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 28 August 2014
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The caecum, or cecum, is a pouch-like portion of the large intestine. It is located in the lower right side of a person’s torso and marks the intersection of the large intestine, small intestine, and appendix. This pouch’s chief function is to assist in the digestion of plant-based foods. The most common medical ailment associated with this part of the large intestine is called malrotation, which occurs when the bowels become twisted while a fetus is still developing.

Traveling through the digestive tract, food that has been eaten first meets the stomach, then the small intestine and large intestine. The end of the small intestine is called the ileum, and the beginning of the large intestine is the caecum. These two are separated by the ileocecal valve, which allows material to pass from the small intestine to the large, but not in the opposite direction. This valve ensures that digested material travels away from the ileum.

The function of this part of the large intestine has been explained by examining specimens of other mammals that have a similar appendage. Animals that rely heavily on plants as a source of nutrition were found to have larger, more active caecums. The opposite was found in animals that were chiefly carnivorous. These findings have led to the explanation that this part of the large intestine plays an important role in extracting water and salt from plant-based foods. It prepares this material, allowing easier digestion of the complex nutrients that are found in vegetative sources.

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A rare developmental problem can occur during the formation of the digestive system in embryos, resulting in complications that require medical intervention. Most commonly, an ailment known as malrotation causes the caecum’s support structure to block the flow of food waste through the small intestine. When an embryo is developing, this part of the intestine fails to rotate into position properly. The string-like supports, called mesentery, cross over the small bowel and pinch it either partially or completely closed. Since this condition drastically affects a person's life, it is often found at a young age after a child shows symptoms like vomiting bile, bloody stools, and abdominal pain.

An ileocecal fistula also can develop between the caecum and ileum at any age. These abnormal passageways can cause abdominal pain and diarrhea, and typically require the attention of a medical professional. Treatment generally requires surgery to remove the affected part of the intestine and antibiotics to help prevent any subsequent infection.

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PinkLady4
Post 3

Huh -- I had no idea humans even had this. I guess you really do learn something new every day. I wonder, does a person's diet change the size or function of the caecum? For instance, would a vegetarian eventually develop a better functioning or bigger caecum than someone who eats a primarily meat-based diet?

Bertie68
Post 2

It's a shame that some of these unfortunate young children have to endure some of these problems like malrotation - just a little fluke of nature during embryo development. Since it happens when the embryo is maturing, I'm surprised that there are no symptoms until the child is a little older. I wonder why the problems don't begin at birth?

It's a real shame that children have to experience miserable symptoms of this and other disorders. They are brave little souls.

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