What is the Splenic Flexure?

Emily Espinoza

The splenic flexure is a sharp bend between the transverse colon and the descending colon in the human abdomen. This bend is simply part of the normal structure of the colon. Problems sometimes arise with this area that are often diagnosed as splenic flexure syndrome. This section of colon can also become distended due to other underlying health issues.

A healthcare professional holding rectal tubes, which are sometimes used to treat splenic flexure syndrome.
A healthcare professional holding rectal tubes, which are sometimes used to treat splenic flexure syndrome.

The colon forms a roughly squared-off-horseshoe shape in the abdomen. On the right side is the ascending colon, which travels up the abdomen to the hepatic flexure or bend that connects this part of the colon to the transverse colon, which stretches across the abdomen to meet the splenic flexure. From here, the descending colon travels down the left side of the body. This condition is also referred to as the left colic flexure but gets its common name from its proximity to the spleen.

Splenic flexure syndrome can sometimes be mistaken for a heart attack.
Splenic flexure syndrome can sometimes be mistaken for a heart attack.

Splenic flexure syndrome is often diagnosed when gas is trapped in the area. This can cause extreme pain and discomfort and is sometimes mistaken for the pain of a heart attack because of its location in the upper abdomen. Treatment and even diagnosis of this syndrome are still debated and often handled differently depending on the treating physician's opinion. Some medical professionals believe that the syndrome is part of irritable bowl syndrome, while others believe that it is a separate syndrome. Treatment varies from increased fiber in the diet to the prescription of antispasmodic medication to calm the muscle.

Diagnosing a splenic flexure usually requires an abdominal X-ray.
Diagnosing a splenic flexure usually requires an abdominal X-ray.

Another possible problem with the splenic flexure is the distention which occurs when regular movement of the colon is impeded in some way. Possible causes of distention are infection, such as tuberculosis or amebiasis, inflammation from ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease, twisting of the colon or obstruction, which could be a result of cancer. Diagnosis usually requires some form of abdominal x-ray or medical resonance imaging.

Ulcerative colitis may cause problems with the splenic flexure.
Ulcerative colitis may cause problems with the splenic flexure.

Much like splenic flexure syndrome, distention can cause a great deal of pain with possible additional symptoms of fever, rapid heart rate and a palpable mass in the abdomen. Treatment involves resolution of the underlying cause as well as decompression with a rectal tube, colonoscopy or occasionally, surgery.

Splenic flexure causes pain in the upper abdomen.
Splenic flexure causes pain in the upper abdomen.

The splenic flexure doesn't have a specific function of its own but is an important part of the colon as a whole. It aids in the movement of substances through the colon, and can cause great discomfort when normal function is impeded. These problems can sometimes be difficult to pinpoint when they do arise, but many are treatable.

Medical imaging such as an MRI is typically used to diagnose splenic flexure.
Medical imaging such as an MRI is typically used to diagnose splenic flexure.
The splenic flexure is a sharp bend between the transverse colon and the descending colon.
The splenic flexure is a sharp bend between the transverse colon and the descending colon.

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Discussion Comments

anon339453

I have a great deal of pain in the RUQ of my abdomen under the edge of my ribs. The pain seems to subside after digesting food or stool passes the area. I believe that I have an obstruction in the area that doctors have failed to diagnosis. I've had CT scan and multiple abdominal ultrasounds performed, but now I see an MRI might be necessary to diagnose an obstruction.

fBoyle

I thought that distention and splenic flexure syndrome are the same thing?

Distention is usually mentioned as one of splenic flexure syndrome symptoms. I know that the syndrome usually involves pain and bloating. But the splenix flexure can become swollen too, which is what distention is, right?

I also think that splenix flexure syndrome is basically the same as irritable bowel syndrome. My sister has IBS and the symptoms are extremely close. Plus, she has also been given a diet high in fiber. She takes soluble fiber every day which has helped relieve some of her symptoms.

ZipLine
@literally45-- Yes, I have splenic flexure syndrome and I'm being treated with a high fiber diet and when necessary, a laxative.

My doctor is of the opinion that this syndrome tends to happen in people who don't eat enough fiber and get constipated often. Basically, when we're constipated, the stool has a hard time moving through the bowels. And since the splenic flexure is a hard curve, the stool causes pain and discomfort while passing through it.

I completely agree with him because ever since I have added more fiber to my diet and have regular bowel movements, the pain has reduced greatly. If I happen to eat bad for a day or two and get constipated, the pain comes back immediately.

So the key is eating healthy-- lots of vegetables, fruits and beans. Moderate activity daily like walking is also very helpful, so is drinking enough water! That's the cure to this syndrome.

literally45

What kind of treatment options are available for splenic flexture syndrome?

I think I have this syndrome. I don't know for sure because my doctor has not diagnosed me with it even though all my symptoms match splenic flexture syndrome symptoms. I have a lot of pain on the left side of my abdomen and back. The pain isn't persistent but usually happens after a meal that causes a lot of gas. I also feel very uncomfortable and bloated.

My doctor basically told me to take over-the-counter medication for the gas and to eat healthy. But the pain continues and I don't know what to do.

Has anyone been diagnosed with splenic flexure syndrome? If so, did you find out the cause of it? And what treatment did you receive?

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