What is Intestinal Colic?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 18 June 2019
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Intestinal colic is severe abdominal pain associated with malfunction in the intestines, such as a blockage or air bubble the patient cannot pass. It should not be confused with colic in babies, where the term “colic” is used generally to refer to a baby who is fussing more than usual, possibly because of intestinal colic but also because of other reasons. In addition, humans are not the only creatures affected by colic. The condition is common in horses, where it can be fatal if not treated promptly and aggressively.

An episode of intestinal colic can start with a sharp twinging sensation in the abdomen. Depending on the cause, there may be an urge to defecate and constipation can occur. Patients may be inclined to lie down or squat to relieve the pain, and it will become increasingly painful over time as the abdomen becomes rigid, hot, and swollen. Causes of this condition can include blockages caused by foreign objects or torsion, where intestines loop around each other.


A medical imaging study of the abdomen will show a blockage in the intestines and can also reveal the presence of trapped gas or stool. Palpation of the abdomen may be used to determine the source of the pain and check for tell-tale signs of conditions like appendicitis, which a patient may confuse with colic initially. With more information about the intestinal colic in hand, a doctor can develop a treatment recommendation for the patient, with the goal of addressing the pain while also treating the underlying cause. This may include surgery, the use of careful stretches and poses to address displaced intestines, or medications.

Causes of intestinal colic can vary. Sometimes people develop this condition as a result of swallowing air while eating or consuming high volumes of fermented food. Issues like torsion and displacement can happen spontaneously. Once someone has recovered from this type of colic, a mild diet is usually recommended to rest the intestines. Patients who experience repeat episodes may be advised to make permanent lifestyle and diet changes to prevent recurrence of colic.

In horses, intestinal colic is recognizable in the form of acute and obvious discomfort. The horse may try to lie down or lean, and can nip at the abdomen. Behavioral changes including lethargy or aggression sometimes occur. It is important to get colic treatment promptly for horses, as this condition can become very dangerous in a short period of time. The intestines may rupture, leading to peritonitis and death for the animal.


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Post 7

An enema works for the intestinal colic.

Post 6

Are there any OTC medicines available for this?

Post 5

My 13 year old daughter is having pain in her upper abdomen which was diagnosed as intestinal colic but despite taking medicines she is not feeling better. Her ultrasound report is perfectly fine. Why she is not getting any relief? She has been suffering for the past 20 days.

Post 3

@sinbad - Fermented foods include foods such as beer, wine, yogurt, cheese, and some pickles and sauerkraut.

Many people feel that fermented foods that have not been pasteurized are are a part of healthy digestive diet, because the fermentation adds the proper balance of bacteria into your digestive tract.

But I could see where eating a ton of just those items could cause some digestive issues and throw off the "proper" balance of bacteria.

Post 2

@bluespirit - I would not take a chance on waiting for the medicine no matter what it is to work, especially considering the article noted that it can mimic appendicitis pain!

I don’t know the details, but I do know that a ruptured appendix is not good.

I would go with what the article suggested of having an image taken which can tell the difference between such serious conditions!

I had never heard of this disease, but it is interesting that it could be caused by too much fermented food – so I have to ask – what is fermented food?

Post 1

Great article - it immediately addressed my misconception that the colic in babies was intestinal colic!

So if intestinal colic is a cause of abdominal pain, how do you tell it is different from other pain such as gas or cramping? Is it more severe or do you take medicine for cramping or bloating and then if you still have pain it could be intestinal colic?

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