Ulcerative colitis is an inflammatory bowel disease. Its main characteristic is the inflammation of the inner lining of the large intestine. The infection normally starts from the rectum and it continues affecting the tissue lining upwards through the colon and reaching upwards to the cecum. For the patients suffering from ulcerative colitis, the tissue lining the large intestine starts dying causing the formation of ulcers. Ulcers then produces pus and causes blood in the stool.
The symptoms of ulcerative colitis vary a lot. They depend on two important factors: inflammation severity and location. However, the most common signs and symptoms are the following:
- Diarrhea, often with blood or pus
- Abdominal pain and cramping
- Rectal pain
- Rectal bleeding — passing small amount of blood with stool
- Urgency to defecate
- Inability to defecate despite urgency
- Weight loss
- In children, failure to grow
Many people who suffer from ulcerative colitis experience mild to moderate symptoms. The course of ulcerative colitis may vary, with some people having long periods of remission.
The scientists still did not find the exact cause of ulcerative colitis. Even though in the beginning they blamed diet and stress as being the main factors, now doctors are sure that these two aggravate the symptoms but not cause the disease.
One possible cause is an immune system malfunction. When your immune system tries to fight off an invading virus or bacterium, an abnormal immune response causes the immune system to attack the cells in the digestive tract, too.
Heredity can also play a very important role. However, many people who suffer from ulcerative colitis don’t have a family member suffering from the same disease.
It does not matter if you are a man or a woman, as you will have the same risk factors:
- Age. Ulcerative colitis usually begins before the age of 30. But, it can occur at any age, and some people may not develop the disease until after age 60.
- Race or ethnicity. Although whites have the highest risk of the disease, it can occur in any race. If you’re of Ashkenazi Jewish descent, your risk is even higher.
- Family history. You’re at higher risk if you have a close relative, such as a parent, sibling or child, with the disease.
There are several possible complications that can aggravate ulcerative colitis:
- Severe bleeding
- A hole in the colon (perforated colon)
- Severe dehydration
- Liver disease (rare)
- Bone loss (osteoporosis)
- Inflammation of your skin, joints and eyes
- An increased risk of colon cancer
- A rapidly swelling colon (toxic megacolon)
- Increased risk of blood clots in veins and arteries
How is ulcerative colitis diagnosed?
When the doctor suspects that you are suffering from ulcerative colitis, he will first do a physical exam and a number of tests. They will help your doctor determine whether you have the ulcerative colitis symptoms and prescribe you the right treatment.
The tests that your doctor may do include:
- A colonoscopy. In this test, a doctor uses a thin, lighted tool to look at the inside of your entire colon. At the same time, the doctor may take a sample (biopsy) of the lining of the colon.
- Blood tests, which look for infection or inflammation.
- Stool sample testing to look for blood, infection, and white blood cells.
How is it treated?
Ulcerative colitis does not affect everyone in the same way. This is why it is very important to discuss with your doctor and let him prescribe the right treatment scheme for you. For instance, in case you experience mild symptoms, your doctor will recommend you some OTC medicines for diarrhea. However, even though we are talking about medicines without prescription, you should discuss with your doctor first before taking them.
Many people need prescription medicines, such as aminosalicylates, steroid medicines, or other medicines that reduce the body’s immune response. These medicines can stop or reduce symptoms and prevent flare-ups.
Some people find that certain foods make their symptoms worse. If this happens to you, it makes sense to not eat those foods. But be sure to eat a healthy, varied diet to keep your weight up and to stay strong.