What is Colic?

In principle, anyone can be affected by colic, from babies to adults. It is not always necessary to consult a doctor, but it can significantly improve the general condition. Since the causes of pain can be very different, a medical clarification makes sense. This treatise shows the underlying causes of colic, how the disease progresses, when it is absolutely necessary to see a doctor, and what everyone can do to prevent it.

What is colic?

Nausea and vomiting are among the clear signs of colic. It continues to be accompanied by severe and sudden abdominal pain. Depending on the type of colic, symptoms such as diarrhea and blood in the stool or blood in the urine appear. See AbbreviationFinder for abbreviations related to Colic.

According to the dictionary, colic is an “attack of cramping abdominal pain”. This pain is not only caused by movement, but can already exist when the body is at rest. Colic can be present when severe, contraction-like and cramping pains occur in the abdomen. Affected people also explain that almost pain-free phases alternate with acute pain phases. Therefore, there is another definition of “wave-like pain”.

These colics are triggered by spasmodic muscle contractions of a hollow organ. The gallbladder, intestines and kidneys are among the hollow organs that are typically affected. Therefore, the specific colic is determined by the affected organ, such as B. biliary colic, intestinal colic or renal colic. In rare cases, the uterus or stomach can also be affected by colic.

As already mentioned, infants can also suffer from colic. The so-called “three-month colic” occurs most frequently with them. The designation derives from the phase of life and not from the organ originating from the pain. Infants can be particularly susceptible to this up to the age of three months.


The cause of colic depends on which hollow organ is affected. In biliary colic, gallstones are the cause of the symptoms. These “stones” prevent the bile from producing and secreting bile normally. Eating too much fat is the most common cause of biliary colic. In order to be able to digest fatty foods, the body needs a lot of bile. If the bile goes into production, so to speak, any gallstones that are present are easily flushed into the individual bile ducts. This leads to a blockage of the bile ducts and, as a result, to painful symptoms.

Intestinal colic can have different causes. On the one hand, flatulence, tumors or foreign bodies can narrow the intestinal passage. On the other hand, an existing disease of the intestine can be the cause and thus cause severe pain.

Renal colic occurs when kidney stones are flushed into the ureters, blocking them. The affected organ wants to eliminate the disorder (gallstones or kidney stones) by contracting. This is what causes the severe, cramping pain.

Symptoms, Ailments & Signs

Nausea and vomiting are among the clear signs of colic. It continues to be accompanied by severe and sudden abdominal pain. Depending on the type of colic, symptoms such as diarrhea and blood in the stool or blood in the urine appear. The duration of a colic is also very different. It can be limited to a few minutes, but can also last up to hours.

For example, if there is biliary colic, the affected person suffers from pain in the upper abdomen. If the colic is very severe, the severe pain radiates to the back and vomiting and diarrhea are the result. A darker color of the urine or stool than usual is another consequence.

If there is renal colic, those affected complain of severe pain in the lower abdomen and up to the bladder. Blood in the urine is also a typical feature of this type of colic, since the kidney stones injure the ureter internally. Other symptoms include nausea and vomiting.

Intestinal colic often causes the most severe symptoms. Pain often extends to the entire abdomen. In addition to nausea and vomiting, the symptoms also include tachycardia or sweating. Because of this, it is recommended to seek medical help for quick relief.


If colic is quickly recognized as such, effective treatment can take place. Therefore, further complications rarely arise in such cases. However, if colic is not treated, the underlying disease can progress. This means more complaints for the person concerned.

stay e.g. For example, if gallstones are left untreated, the normal function of the bile can be disturbed and damaged. If the cause of the symptoms is carcinoma, further complications are rarely unavoidable. Food intolerance, jaundice and even a reduced life expectancy are the consequences if treatment is not given.

The colloquial “kidney stones” can also lead to complications if left untreated. On the one hand, the ureter can be injured internally. On the other hand, urinary retention can occur. This can cause a kidney disorder or, in the worst case, a kidney infarction.

Intestinal colic can also be life-threatening if an intestinal obstruction occurs. Further complications can arise from high blood pressure or tachycardia.

If antibiotics and painkillers are used to treat colic, these drugs can also lead to dysfunction in the entire organism. If an operation is unavoidable, there are other risks, such as B. Wound healing disorders, intolerance to anesthesia, inflammation, etc.

When should you go to the doctor?

If severe pain occurs in the middle and upper abdomen on the right side, a doctor should be consulted. If symptoms persist over a longer period of time, they should also be examined by a doctor. If symptoms increase quickly and are accompanied by other signs typical of colic, the emergency doctor should be called.

If symptoms of blood poisoning or an intestinal obstruction appear, action must be taken quickly and the emergency doctor called. Otherwise the situation can be life-threatening. If those affected still have chills, fever or high blood pressure, the cause must also be examined and treated by a doctor. In such cases, quick action can actually save lives!


The attending doctor will take a medical history to confirm colic or rule out other diseases of the internal organs. First the stomach is palpated.

The abdomen is then examined sonographically or colloquially by ultrasound. With this examination, kidney or gallstones can be clearly identified. If a clear diagnosis is not yet possible, magnetic resonance imaging or computed tomography can be used.

To diagnose renal colic, the urine is also examined. If it is necessary to subject the ureters to an examination, an X-ray examination including a contrast medium is essential.

If intestinal colic is suspected, X-rays or ultrasound examinations are carried out in order to be able to get to the bottom of the cause. In rare cases, an endoscopy (colonoscopy) is performed.

Treatment & Therapy

Heat is helpful to relieve existing cramps. Also, light exercise can help make the pain bearable. Anyone suffering from renal colic should drink as much lukewarm tea as possible. Chamomile or fennel tea are ideal for this. These also have an antispasmodic effect and flush the urinary tract well. In the case of acute and severe pain, the use of painkillers is essential. The cause of the complaint can then be addressed.

The treatment of gallstones or kidney stones consists of breaking them up. Once this is done, they are excreted through the urinary tract. If gallstones keep forming, it may be necessary to remove the gallbladder.

The treatment of intestinal colic includes the use of flatulence-reducing medication as well as the administration of anticonvulsant painkillers. Antibiotics are also prescribed in certain cases.

A change in diet is highly recommended for people prone to intestinal colic. In mild cases, this will provide relief. Likewise, home remedies such as warm baths or fennel tea can already lead to an improvement in symptoms in the case of minor illnesses.

However, if an intestinal blockage is the cause of colic, an operation is necessary.

Outlook & Forecast

In most cases, colic can be treated and healed medically. After a short time, pain and cramps subside and the general condition improves. If the treatment goes well, nothing stands in the way of a favorable prognosis. Most of those affected are symptom-free after just a few weeks.

If the cause is directly organic, a favorable prospect can also be confirmed. Many therapeutic procedures are successful and can therefore also predict a complete cure.

If a disease of chronic origin is the basic problem, a complete cure is usually not given. Colic will always return, which does not allow for a full recovery. Nevertheless, in such cases, measures can be taken to alleviate the symptoms.

In addition, psychotherapeutic treatments can help to accept the disease and not to declare it an “enemy”. A balanced psyche will significantly improve the overall state of health. If no treatment options are considered, life-threatening consequences can occur with no prospect of recovery.


To prevent colic, the abdomen and kidneys should be kept warm. In addition, the most vulnerable organs are well flushed through sufficient fluid intake. In the case of repeated complaints, for example with the gallbladder, it should be considered to have it removed. This is of course a surgical procedure, but prevents further biliary colic. Furthermore, a healthy lifestyle and a varied diet are recommended to prevent colic of any kind. Anyone who may belong to a risk group due to hereditary factors should adhere to the suggested therapeutic measures.


Whether and in what form follow-up care is necessary for colic depends entirely on the causes. If obstacles – such as a blockage in the intestine or kidney stones – were the cause, there is no follow-up care. If pain persists after removing the obstruction, the affected organs may need to be examined using imaging techniques. Sometimes it can lead to damage, in the worst case to perforations.

If, for example, inflammatory processes were the reason for the colic, the follow-up care consists of subsequent care of the patient after treatment. In the case of chronic conditions associated with colic, follow-up care consists of occasional examinations. Changes in the clinical picture that may also lead to flare-ups of pain can be found in this way.

However, in many cases there is no causal therapy available and the colic therefore continues to occur. At best, follow-up care consists of an adapted diet (in the case of intestinal disorders) and examining the organs in the event of particularly severe pain flare-ups. Sometimes colic is so severe that rest is recommended as aftercare. Sufferers should avoid physical exertion for some time and keep their bodies warm. However, this form of aftercare does not necessarily lead to an improvement in the condition.

You can do that yourself

Everyone is responsible for their own lifestyle. Regardless of whether someone belongs to an affected risk group or not, care should be taken to ensure a healthy lifestyle. This includes good quality food, avoiding stress and planning sufficient exercise and rest periods.

In addition, regular appointments should be made with the family doctor or consulted in the event of complaints. Specialist appointments with a gastroenterologist or the like can also be considered.

If symptoms are severe and persistent, medical advice must be sought immediately to avoid life-threatening complications.

Of course, these tips are no guarantee that you will never develop colic. However, they help to keep the risk of disease to a minimum.