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Latin '
Gray's subject #249 1177
MeSH [1]
Front of abdomen, showing surface markings for liver, stomach, and large intestine.
Stomach colon rectum diagram.svg

In the anatomy of the digestive system, the colon is a part of the large intestine, but very often is incorrectly used in the meaning of the whole large intestine altogether; it is really only the biggest part of the large intestine. The main function of the colon appears to be extraction of water from feces. In mammals, it consists of the ascending colon, transverse colon, the descending colon, and the sigmoid colon. The colon from cecum to the mid-transverse colon is also known as the right colon. The remainder is known as the left colon.


The location of the parts of the colon are either in the abdominal cavity or behind it in the retroperitoneum. The colon in those areas is fixed in location.

Ascending colon

The ascending colon, on the right side of the abdomen, is about 12.5 cm long. It is the part of the colon from the cecum to the hepatic flexure (the turn of the colon by the liver). It is retroperitoneal in most humans. In grazing animals the cecum empties into the spiral colon.

Anteriorly it is related to the coils of small intestine, the right edge of the greater omentum, and the anterior abdominal wall. Posteriorly, it is related to the iliacus, the iliolumbar ligament, the quadratus lumborum, the transverse abdominis, the diaphragm at the tip of the last rib; the lateral cutaneous, ilioinguinal, and iliohypogastric nerves; the iliac branches of the iliolumbar vessels, the fourth lumbar artery, and the right kidney.

The ascending colon is supplied by sympathetic fibers of the vagus nerve (CN X).

Transverse colon

The transverse colon is the part of the colon from the hepatic flexure (the turn of the colon by the liver) to the splenic flexure (the turn of the colon by the spleen). The transverse colon hangs off the stomach, attached to it by a wide band of tissue called the greater omentum. On the posterior side, the transverse colon is connected to the [[osterior abdominal wall by a mesentery known as the transverse mesocolon.

The transverse colon is encased in peritoneum, and is therefore mobile (unlike the parts of the colon immediately before and after it). More cancers form as the large intestine goes along and the contents become more solid (water is removed) in order to form feces. It is primarily supplied by the [middle colic artery, a branch of superior mesenteric artery.

Descending colon

The descending colon is the part of the colon from the splenic flexure to the beginning of the sigmoid colon. It is retroperitoneal in two-thirds of humans. In the other third, it has a (usually short) mesentery.

Sigmoid colon

Diagram of the Human Intestine.

The sigmoid colon is the part of the large intestine after the descending colon and before the rectum. The name sigmoid means S-shaped . The walls of the sigmoid colon are muscular, and contract to increase the pressure inside the colon, causing the stool to move into the rectum.

Due to the intermittent high pressure within it, the colon can develop pockets called diverticuli in its walls. The presence of diverticuli, whether harmful or not, is called diverticulosis. An infection of the diverticuli is called diverticulitis.

Sigmoidoscopy is a common diagnostic technique used to examine the sigmoid colon.


The large intestine comes after the small intestine in the digestive tract and measures approximately 1.5 meters in length. Although there are differences in the large intestine between different organisms, the large intestine is mainly responsible for storing waste, reclaiming water, maintaining the water balance, and absorbing some vitamins, such as vitamin K.

By the time the chyme has reached this tube, almost all nutrients and 90% of the water have been absorbed by the body. At this point some electrolytes like sodium, magnesium, and chloride are left as well as indigestible carbohydrates known as dietary fiber. As the chyme moves through the large intestine, most of the remaining water is removed, while the chyme is mixed with mucus and bacteria known as gut flora, and becomes feces. The bacteria break down some of the fiber for their own nourishment and create acetate, propionate, and butyrate as waste products, which in turn are used by the cell lining of the colon for nourishment. This is an example of a symbiotic relationship and provides about one hundred Calories a day to the body. The large intestine produces no digestive enzymeschemical digestion is completed in the small intestine before the chyme reaches the large intestine. The pH in the colon varies between 5.5 and 7 (slightly acidic to neutral).


There are a number of disorders of the colon that are thought to be related to psychological stress and to reflect aspects of personality.

Main article: Colon disorders


Additional images

External links

This article was originally based on an entry from a public domain edition of Gray's Anatomy. As such, some of the information contained herein may be outdated. Please edit the article if this is the case, and feel free to remove this notice when it is no longer relevant.

  1. REDIRECT Template:Digestive tract
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