Ulcerative colitis (UC) is a type of inflammatory bowel disease that only affects the large intestine, inside lining or colon. It causes irritation and inflammation that eventually leads to sores in the lining called ulcers. It can be debilitating and can sometimes lead to life-threatening complications.
Although UC is an inflammatory bowel disease, it is different from other bowel diseases but with similar symptoms such as irritable bowel syndrome or Crohn’s disease. For example, Crohn’s disease also causes inflammation though it happens in the digestive tract only. Irritable bowel syndrome, on the other hand, does not cause inflammation or ulcers, instead, it causes a problem with the muscle in the intestines.
There are classifications of ulcerative colitis. These types are classified by the doctors according to its location.
- Pancolitis. This type of UC often affects the entire colon, resulting in bouts of bloody diarrhea that may be severe, abdominal cramps and pain, fatigue, and significant weight loss.
- Ulcerative Proctitis. This form of UC tends to be the mildest as the inflammation is confined to the area closest to the anus (rectum), and rectal bleeding may be the only sign of the disease.
- Acute Severe Ulcerative Colitis. This is a rare form of colitis, but it affects the entire colon and causes severe pain, profuse diarrhea, bleeding, fever, and inability to eat.
- Proctosigmoiditis. Signs and symptoms in this type include abdominal cramps and pain, bloody diarrhea, and an inability to move the bowels in spite of the urge to do so (tenesmus). The inflammation also involves the rectum and sigmoid colon (lower end of the colon).
- Left-Sided Colitis. A patient may manifest some symptoms such as bloody diarrhea, abdominal cramping, and pain on the left side, and unintended weight loss. Moreover, the swelling extends from the rectum up through the sigmoid and descending colon
Ulcerative Colitis Causes and Symptoms
Ulcerative colitis occurs when the immune system malfunctions. The body’s immune system normally attacks invaders of the body, like the common colds. However, in UC’s cases, the immune system thinks that good gut bacteria, food, and the cells that line the colon are the intruders.
Health professionals are not sure why people get the condition. The disease sometimes runs in families so genes might play a role. But research has not discovered yet even one vivid cause for UC.
Things, such as stress and food, do not cause ulcerative colitis, but they can trigger a flare of symptoms. Usually, a bloody diarrhea is its main symptom but some pus may be present in the stools, too.
Other problems may include:
- Skin sore
- Weight loss
- Feeling tire
- Canker sores
- Crampy belly pain
- Not feeling hungry
- Joint pain or soreness
- Waking up at night to go
- Not being able to hold your stools in
- Too few red blood cells, called anemia
- Eye pain when looking at a bright light
- Sudden urge to empty your colon right away
- Feeling like you need to use the bathroom again as if you haven’t completely emptied your colon
The above-mentioned symptoms may be gone for a while. They might not even bother you for weeks or years. But the flare-up can come back again.
Diagnosing Ulcerative Colitis
Doctors will use various tests to tell if you have ulcerative colitis instead of another gut disease.
- Blood Tests: Inflammation or anemia can be revealed by a blood test.
- Stools Sample Test: doctors can rule out a parasite or an infection in the colon through the test. They can even know if there is unseen blood in your stool.
- Flexible Sigmoidoscopy: The doctor will put a flexible tube through your bottom into your lower colon. A small light and a camera are attached at the end of the tube. The doctor may also biopsy your colon. This process is done by taking a piece of the lining of the lower colon using a small tool. A specialist will finalize the test by looking at the sample under a microscope.
- Colonoscopy: Colonoscopy has almost the same process as flexible sigmoidoscopy. The only difference though is that the doctor will look not just on the lower part of your colon but at your whole colon. The process is called chromoendoscopy by which the doctor sprays a blue dye inside the colon during colonoscopy to see the UC affected parts.
- X-rays: X-rays are a less common tool for diagnosing the disease, but special cases may require the need of the tool.
Treatment for Ulcerative Colitis has two main goals which may need a mix of diet change, medication, or surgery to reach the goals.
- To give the colon a chance to heal by easing the symptoms.
- To subsides flare-ups.
It has no cure available yet, and people usually have symptom flare-ups off and on for life. The right treatments can help you keep a handle on the disease, though.
Food doesn’t cause UC, but it can make your symptoms worse. For instance, you may spicy or high-fiber dishes bad for your gut while the soft, bland food to be good. If you are a lactose intolerance, meaning your stomach can’t digest the sugar in milk, your doctor may advise you to keep away from dairy products.
Your doctor or nutritionist may suggest a high-calorie, high-protein eating plan that is low in fiber to make sure that you get enough vitamins and nutrients.
The below drugs may be prescribed by your doctor.
- Antibiotics for the healing of large intestine as well as for building up soldiers against infections.
- Meds that could help your immune system to stop attacking the colon.
- Medicine that can decrease the swelling in your colon and at the same time manage your symptoms. One of these medicines is aminosalicylates. If your symptoms become more severe, or if aminosalicylates do not work, your doctor may prescribe a corticosteroid, another type of anti-inflammatory drug.
- Biologics are for patients with more severe symptoms of ulcerative colitis. These are drugs made from proteins in living cells instead of chemicals.
Surgery may be suggested by your doctor if other treatments do not work, or your ulcerative colitis is in the severe stage. The surgery is called colectomy which requires removing your colon.