Toxic megacolon is a life-threatening complication of other intestinal conditions. It causes widening (dilation) of the large intestine within 1 to a few days.
Toxic dilation of the colon; Megarectum
Toxic megacolon occurs as a complication of inflammatory bowel disease, such as
This is not the same as other forms of megacolon, such as pseudo-obstruction, acute colonic ileus, or congenital colonic dilation. These conditions occur without infection or inflammation.
The rapid widening of the colon may cause the following symptoms:
- Abdominal tenderness
- Rapid heart rate
Exams and Tests
The rapid widening (dilation) of the colon makes this different from other conditions, such as chronic constipation, that can widen the colon slowly and do not cause sudden, life-threatening symptoms.
A physical exam may reveal signs of
- Blood electrolytes
Complete blood count
You will get fluids and electrolytes to help prevent
If rapid widening is allowed to continue, an opening (perforation) can form in the colon. Therefore, most cases of toxic megacolon will need surgery, such as
You may receive antibiotics to prevent
If the condition does not improve, it can be life-threatening. In this case, a colectomy is usually needed.
- Perforation of the colon
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Go to the emergency room or call the local emergency number (such as 911) if you develop severe abdominal pain — especially if you also have:
Rapid heart rate
Tenderness when the abdomen is pressed
Treating diseases that cause toxic megacolon, such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, can prevent this condition.