What is melanosis coli?

Melanosis coli is a benign discoloration of cells in the colon and is usually not diagnosed unless a person has a colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy, which examines the lower part of the colon. The condition is usually the result of regular use of certain forms of laxatives such as Senecot®, which is made from senna or other plant substances such as aloe vera. This is not a serious disease, it is often reversible and has few symptoms. The main concern when finding melanosis coli is that it may suggest laxative abuse, which can lead to other colon disorders that are very serious.

Dark spots or brown discolorations in the colon sound like they are made of melanin, a pigment called melanosis coli. This is not the case. The use of certain laxatives on a regular basis, which generally exceeds the recommendations, can cause some cells to die in the tissues of the colon. Through the processes of the body, higher than normal cell death ends up resulting in a dark color in various parts of the colon.

As mentioned, there are very few symptoms. Clearly, though, people who are abusing laxatives can have fairly frequent diarrhea. Melanosis coli would not be suspected in most cases, unless a patient has a history of laxative abuse or overuse. Due to an outward lack of symptoms, this condition is not found unless a sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy is performed.

Melanosis coli was once thought to suggest a higher chance of developing colon cancer, but this is not an accepted view. However, if a doctor suspects laxative abuse is occurring; they will tell people to stop using laxatives. There are very difficult complications that can arise from laxative overuse and the only way to treat laxative abuse and begin to resolve melanosis coli at the same time is to end laxative use.

The presence of spots or shadows on any type of body scan is often a very frightening thing. In this case, however, people shouldn't worry about a diagnosis of melanosis coli, especially in terms of things like cancer developing. It is true that laxative abuse can lead to an increased risk of colorectal cancer, but the spots themselves do not suggest that any form of cancer is currently present.

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