The Epidemiology Of Colic

Because there are so many causes for colic, epidemiology can be helpful in determining those things that are associated with an increased risk of colic. In some cases, it also can help identify the cause.
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Epidemiology is the study of disease incidence. When we think of epidemiology, we most often think of infectious diseases or tracking down the cause of an epidemic. The same science that has been used to study human diseases has been applied to numerous animal diseases, and recently to the study of equine colic. Because there are so many causes for colic, epidemiology can be helpful in determining those things that are associated with an increased risk of colic. In some cases, it also can help identify the cause.

Mild episodes of colic often are described as gas colic, spasmodic colic, or ileus, depending on the consistency of feces and the character of bowel sounds heard on auscultation. Most of these mild cases of colic have no known cause, and frequently the veterinarian cannot determine which part of the intestine caused the pain. Other types of colic-such as colon impactions or intestinal obstruction due to displacement or strangulation-can be diagnosed by a rectal examination or surgery, but the actual cause or causes of these intestinal disorders often are not known.

Causes Of Colic

Infection with intestinal parasites is known to cause colic. Infection with Strongylus vulgaris once was reported as causing 90% of all colic in horses.10 Although this report never was substantiated by scientific studies, several reports have shown that Strongylus vulgaris larvae disturb intestinal movement, initiate inflammation, and stimulate blood clots in the arteries (thromboembolism) to the intestine

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Nat White, DVM, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVS, is the Jean Ellen Shehan Professor and Director at Virginia Tech’s Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center. After receiving a doctor of veterinary medicine at Cornell University in 1971, he completed an internship and residency in surgery at the University of California-Davis from 1971 to 1973, and earned a master of science in pathology at Kansas State University in 1976. He is a Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Surgeons (ACVS). Dr. White, who has served on the faculties of both Kansas State University and the University of Georgia, joined the Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center in 1985, and held the position of Theodora Ayer Randolph Professor of Surgery at Virginia Tech from 1987 to 2003. A world-renowned expert in colic, Dr. White has authored several books on the topic including Equine Acute Abdomen and Handbook of Equine Colic as well as the surgical texts Current Techniques in Equine Surgery and Lameness and Current Practice of Equine Surgery. He has been a director for the ACVS Veterinary Symposium since 1997, and is a past president of the ACVS and of the ACVS Research and Education Foundation. Dr. White is a former director-at-large for the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) and is currently AAEP President. Dr. White’s research interests include pathophysiology of ischemia-reperfusion, epidemiology of colic, abdominal and orthopedic surgery, and treatment of orthopedic diseases. He is a member of the AAEP, the ACVS and the American Veterinary Medical Association.

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