Ulcerative Colitis: What It Is, Causes, Symptoms, And Treatments

Ulcerative colitis (UC)  is an inflammatory bowel disease that causes long-term inflammation of the cells that line the rectum and colon (also called the large intestine). This inflammation can lead to sores called ulcers, which may bleed and interfere with digestion. You can take medications to calm the inflammation and learn strategies to ease its effects on your daily life.

 

ulcerative colitis

 

 

Ulcerative Colitis: Abdominal Pain

Stomach pain and bloody diarrhea can be warning signs of ulcerative colitis. These symptoms range from infrequent and mild to persistent and severe.

Additional symptoms with long-term inflammation in the colon can cause digestive problems that result in these:

  • Weight loss in these
  • Poor appetite
  • Nausea
  • Poor growth in children

 

Ulcerative Colitis: Non-digestive Symptoms

  • Joint pain
  • Skin sores
  • Fatigue
  • Anemia
  • Frequent fevers

 

Ulcerative Colitis: How Do You Tell It Apart From Crohn’s Disease?

The symptoms of ulcerative colitis are similar to another form of inflammatory bowel disease called Crohn’s. The difference is that UC happens only in your large intestine. Crohn’s can occur in various places throughout your digestive tract, so you may get symptoms anywhere from the anus to the mouth. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBD) is another disorder known for long-term belly pain and diarrhea, but it doesn’t cause inflammation or sores in the intestines.

 

Ulcerative Colitis: Who Gets It?

About 700,000 people in the U.S. have the disease. Although you can get it at any age, it usually develops when you’re between 15 and 25. Ulcerative colitis tends to run in families and is more common in whites. People of Eastern European Jewish descent have a higher risk of getting it.

 

Ulcerative Colitis: Causes

The exact cause isn’t clear, but researchers suspect the immune system, your body’s defense against germs, is involved. When you have UC, your immune cells may not react in a normal way to bacteria in your digestive tract. Doctors aren’t sure if this triggers the condition or is a result of it. Stress or diet can make your symptoms worse, but they don’t cause ulcerative colitis.

 

Ulcerative Colitis: Diagnosis

The most accurate way to check if you have ulcerative colitis is to get a colonoscopy. In this procedure, your doctor inserts a tiny camera into your rectum to get an up-close look at the inside of your colon. You’ll learn if you have inflammation or ulcers in the area. A colonoscopy can also help your doctor rule out Crohn’s disease, diverticulitis, and cancer.

Symptoms may come and go. During remission, you may have no discomfort at all. This period can last for months or years, but the symptoms eventually return.

The disease can sometimes lead to complications that might send you to the hospital. These may include an ulcer that bleeds a lot or severe diarrhea that causes dehydration. In this happens to you, your medical team will work to stop the loss of blood and fluids. If there is a tear in your colon, you may need surgery to fix it.

The risk for colon cancer goes up if you have UC and your entire colon is affected for a long period of time. The risk also rises after you’ve had UC for 8 to 10 years, and continues to increase over time. Treatment that puts your UC in remission may lower the risk. Colonoscopy screening tests improve the odds of detecting colon cancer early, when it’s easier to treat.

Some people with ulcerative colitis get conditions like osteoporosis, arthritis, kidney stones, eye problems such as uveitis and, in rare cases, liver disease. Researchers believe you may get these complications because of widespread inflammation triggered by the immune system. These problems may improve when you treat it your with anti-inflammatory medications.

 

Ulcerative Colitis: Medications

Medicines aim to calm the inflammation inside the colon. The first choice is usually a drug that contains aminosalicylates. If that doesn’t help, your doctor may prescribe a steroid such as prednisone. A third option is an immune modifier, which lowers inflammation by changing the activity of your immune system. It can take up to 3 months before you feel the benefits.

Ulcerative Colitis: Biologic Therapies

They’re the newest type of treatment for ulcerative colitis. Most of these medications help the body destroy a protein linked to inflammation called tumor necrosis factor (TNF).  The medicine, called anti-TNF agents, is given through an IV. A newer biologic called Vedolizumab works in a different way without targeting TNF. Biologic therapy is given if TNF therapy fails to work.

Ulcerative Colitis: Surgery

Up to 45% of people with ulcerative colitis eventually need surgery, either to repair a tear or remove a severely damaged colon. After a surgeon removes your colon, your ulcerative colitis won’t come back. Newer surgical techniques mean that people who get their colon taken out usually don’t need an external pouch to collect waste, called a colostomy bag.

Ulcerative Colitis: Reducing Flares

A variety of triggers can make the symptoms worse. Some common ones are stress, smoking, missing doses of medication, and eating certain foods. Try to identify your personal triggers and take steps to avoid them. For instance, you can try meditation to manage stress or use a daily pillbox to remember every dose. If flares continue, talk to your doctor about a change in your treatment plan.

Living With UC: Diet Changes

Diet doesn’t cause ulcerative colitis, but some foods may make your symptoms worse. Common culprits include dairy, fatty foods, and too much fiber, which can trigger diarrhea. You may find it helps to keep a journal of what you eat and any symptoms you have. Look for links and try avoiding suspected triggers. If you lose a lot of weight, you may need to work with a dietitian to come up with a high-calorie diet.

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