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What is toxic megacolon?

Toxic megacolon is a very serious complication of inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease) and infections of the colon. In toxic megacolon, the colon dilates and loses its ability to contract and function normally. Gas builds up in the intestinal tract causing swelling, tenderness and pain in the abdomen, as well as fever, rapid heartbeat, diarrhea and shock.

If left untreated, toxic megacolon can lead to perforation (a hole) of the colon, total body infection (sepsis), bleeding and blood loss and even death.

Call your doctor if you notice any symptoms of toxic megacolon including:
  • frequent and/or bloody diarrhea
  • swelling in your abdomen
  • fever
  • rapid heartbeat
  • symptoms of shock, including a weak pulse, trouble breathing, clammy skin and confusion
Treatment involves therapies to reduce the air in the colon, antibiotics to stop infection, intravenous fluids to prevent dehydration and shock, and possibly surgery.

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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.