Anatomy and Physiology of the Large Intestine

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  • 0:08 Large Intestine
  • 1:24 Cecum and Appendix
  • 2:54 Colon
  • 4:24 Haustra
  • 5:03 Rectum and Anal Canal
  • 5:52 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Rebecca Gillaspy

Dr. Gillaspy has taught health science at University of Phoenix and Ashford University and has a degree from Palmer College of Chiropractic.

The large intestine is the made up of the cecum, colon, rectum and anal canal. In this lesson, you will learn about the anatomical features and basic functions of these large intestine segments.

Large Intestine

By the time food passes through the small intestine, digestion is complete and most of the nutrient absorption has occurred. Now food is ready for its final stage of the digestive process as it passes through the large intestine. In this lesson, you will learn about the anatomy and basic functions of the large intestine.

The large intestine surrounds the outer edge of the small intestine.
Image Large Intestine

The large intestine is the portion of the intestine that extends from the ileocecal valve to the anus. We previously learned that the ileocecal valve is the valve between the small intestine and the large intestine that prevents material from flowing back into the small intestine. We see from the picture of the large intestine that it is, in fact, larger than the small intestine - hence its name. However, the large intestine is quite a bit shorter than its counterpart, measuring approximately five feet or one and a half meters in length.

We also see from the picture that the large intestine looks somewhat like a frame as it surrounds the small intestine. As we follow the path of the large intestine, the different sections change names. However, their basic function remains the same, and that is to absorb water and a few other products from the undigested food mass and carry the remaining useless waste material out of the body.

Cecum and Appendix

The cecum is continuous with the small intestine.
cecum and ileum diagram

The first part of the large intestine is called the cecum. The cecum is defined as a large pouch forming the beginning of the large intestine. From the picture, we notice that it looks somewhat like a pouch and that it is continuous with the last part of the small intestine, called the ileum. We also see that food passes from the ileum to the cecum through the ileocecal valve.

This is also the location for the appendix, which is a blind-ended tube connected to the cecum. The appendix is sometimes referred to as the vermiform appendix, and although that name sounds more complicated, it might help you remember the organ, because the term 'vermiform' comes from the Latin language and means 'worm-shaped.' As you can see, the appendix hangs from the cecum and does look somewhat like a worm.

Unfortunately, the long, slender shape of the appendix makes it a potential trouble spot because it can easily become twisted. This makes it a common site for bacteria to gather and multiply, leading to inflammation. You may have heard of someone who suffered an inflammation of the appendix, known as an appendicitis. An appendicitis is a medical emergency and typically requires surgical removal of the structure. If treatment is not received, an inflamed appendix could burst, spilling infectious material into your abdominal cavity. The function of the appendix is controversial. While many think that the appendix serves no purpose, others theorize that it may play a role in the immune system.


The colon is the part of the large intestine that extends from the cecum to the rectum. The colon does not play a major role in nutrient absorption. However, it does function to absorb water, salts, and some fat-soluble vitamins. The colon is divided into four sections, and we see from the picture that every time the colon takes a turn, we assign a new name.

The colon absorbs water, salt and vitamins.
Colon Function

The ascending colon passes upward in the abdomen, and you can recall this term by remembering that the word 'ascending' means 'upward.' At the top of the ascending colon, we see that the colon takes an abrupt turn. This marks the beginning of the transverse colon. This term can be easily recalled if you remember that the term 'transverse' means 'lying across.' We see from the picture that the transverse colon lies across the abdomen.

At the end of the transverse colon, we again see an abrupt turn downward, and this marks the beginning of the descending colon. As with the other terms, we see that the name describes the section because the term 'descending' means 'moving down.' At the base of the descending colon, we see a turn inward that creates a final section of the colon called the sigmoid colon. This section is somewhat different because it's S-shaped. However, the difference can help you recall the name because the 'sigmoid' colon is 'S-shaped.' In fact, the word 'sigma' is Greek for S-shaped.


The colon is the main section of the large intestine, and if we take a look inside, we see that the colon lacks the villi, or small projections, that helped increase nutrient absorption in the small intestine. This is likely because most nutrient absorption has been completed before it reaches the large intestine.

The inside of the colon lacks villi.
cross section lacking villi

We also see an anatomical feature that we have not previously encountered called haustra. Haustra are pouches in the wall of the colon. Haustra are caused by longitudinal bands that run along the intestinal wall. Because these longitudinal bands are shorter than the intestine, they create the puckered appearance of the colon.

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