Microscopic Colitis | Digestive Health | Loyola Medicine

Microscopic Colitis

Overview and Facts about Microscopic Colitis

Microscopic colitis results when your colon, the lower part of your large intestine, becomes inflamed. It often causes watery diarrhea and abdominal cramping. A type of inflammatory bowel disease, microscopic colitis can’t be diagnosed without the assistance of a biopsy and microscope because the inflammation is too small to see with the naked eye. There are two types of microscopic colitis, collagenous colitis and lymphocytic colitis, and both tend to be less severe than other bowel conditions, such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.

Signs and Symptoms of Microscopic Colitis

The most common signs and symptoms of microscopic colitis are watery diarrhea and abdominal cramping, without any blood in the stool. These intestinal problems may last a few weeks to a few months, and the symptoms may come and go on their own. Other symptoms of microscopic colitis include:

  • Pain in the abdomen area
  • Bloating
  • Dehydration

Causes and Risk Factors of Microscopic Colitis

The root cause of microscopic colitis is unknown, but may result from the influence of toxins, bacteria, or viruses you’re exposed to. The condition may also manifest from a malfunction with your immune system where your body mistakenly attacks the healthy cells in your digestive tract.

While anyone can develop microscopic colitis, risk factors have been identified. Some of the most common include:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) use
  • Heartburn medication
  • Certain antidepressants
  • Being a woman over the age of 45
  • Family history of microscopic colitis

Tests and Diagnosis of Microscopic Colitis

To diagnose microscopic colitis, your doctor may request that you have a colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy. During these procedures, a thin tube with a camera is inserted into the large intestine and transmits the images to a computer screen, where the doctor can examine it. During this screening test, your doctor may take a biopsy, or a small sample of tissue for further testing.

Treatment and Care for Microscopic Colitis

The treatment your doctor recommends for microscopic colitis depends on the severity and frequency of your symptoms. Since the condition can sometimes go away on its own, the doctor may recommend avoiding triggers that can cause flare-ups with microscopic colitis. This can include certain foods and drinks like dairy products, fatty foods, and caffeine. Your doctor may also recommend increasing your fiber intake or taking a fiber supplement.

If these habit changes don’t improve your condition, your doctor may recommend:

  • Anti-diarrhea medications
  • Anti-inflammation medications, including corticosteroids
  • Immune-suppressing medications

In rare cases, surgery to remove part of the large intestine may be necessary to relieve your microscopic colitis symptoms.