Advertisement

How does aging affect the colon?

Lawrence S. Friedman, MD
Gastroenterology
In the colon, moving one's bowels may be the most frequent gastrointestinal challenge associated with aging. The problem is usually the result of a poorly functioning or diseased large intestine. Problems with this organ can also result in diarrhea and hemorrhoids. In addition, the risk for colon cancer and polyps increases with age. In fact, one in three senior citizens has one or more polyps in the colon. That's why a screening exam called a colonoscopy (examination of colon's interior) is recommended on a regular basis after age 50. Since colon cancer evolves from polyps, removal of polyps will keep colon cancer from getting started. In general, people pass less stool after they reach age 65. In part, this can be the result of a change in diet to softer foods, a decreased appetite, or diminished muscular activity of the colon. Constipation may also be the result of a neurological problem.
Aging affects the colon in a number of ways. Just like older people are more prone to developing skin cancers through age and sun or lung cancer through age and cigarettes, the colon is also more prone to developing polyps from a poor diet that is high in fat and red meat, and low in fiber, which may progress to colon cancer.
 
Through repeated straining and lifting, people are more prone to hernias; the same is true in the colon, in the form of hemorrhoids and diverticulosis. If a person were to get an infection in one of these little hernias, they would develop diverticulitis, which can be very painful.

Continue Learning about Digestive Health

Worst Case Scenario: I Swallowed Gum
Worst Case Scenario: I Swallowed Gum
You may have heard that swallowed gum stays in your stomach for seven years. But is it true? Gum sales are about $25 billion globally, so some of thos...
Read More
How does excess acidity cause digestion problems?
Mosaraf Ali, MDMosaraf Ali, MD
The digestive system is a fine balance of acid or alkaline media: the saliva in the mouth is alkal...
More Answers
When Bloating May Be Something Serious
When Bloating May Be Something SeriousWhen Bloating May Be Something SeriousWhen Bloating May Be Something SeriousWhen Bloating May Be Something Serious
Seven serious conditions that cause bloating.
Start Slideshow
How Do Probiotics Work?
How Do Probiotics Work?

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.