Overview and Facts about Ulcerative Colitis
Ulcerative colitis results from long-lasting inflammation and forms sores, or ulcers, in your digestive tract. Ulcerative colitis is an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and most often affects the innermost lining of your large intestine called the colon, and the rectum.
In most cases, ulcerative colitis develops over time, with symptoms becoming progressively worse. When left untreated, it can lead to debilitating and life-threatening conditions. Although the condition has no cure, you can treat its symptoms and remission is possible.
Signs and Symptoms of Ulcerative Colitis
The most common symptom of ulcerative colitis is diarrhea accompanied with blood or pus in your stool. You may experience abdominal pain and cramping, especially prior to or during a bowel movement, or have difficulty controlling the urge to go. Other signs of ulcerative colitis include:
- Rectal pain
- Inability to defecate
- Unintended weight loss
- Failure to grow (in children)
Causes and Risk Factors of Ulcerative Colitis
Currently, the root cause of ulcerative colitis is unclear, but many researchers believe it may have something to do with a malfunction in the immune system. Instead of fighting off the bacteria and viruses that make you sick, the immune system turns on healthy cells in your digestive tract.
Although anyone can develop ulcerative colitis, there are risk factors that may make it more likely. These can include being under the age of 30 and having a close family member diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. Caucasians also have a higher risk of developing the condition, especially if you’re of Ashkenazi Jewish descent.
Tests and Diagnosis of Ulcerative Colitis
For doctors to diagnose ulcerative colitis, they must rule out other conditions. To do so, they may request certain tests or procedures. Some of the most common ones include:
- Blood tests to check for anemia and infection
- Stool sample to look for white blood cells, bacteria, viruses or parasites
- Colonoscopy to see the entire colon and take a tissue sample to biopsy
- X-rays to rule out certain conditions, like a perforated colon
- CT scan to look at the inflammation of your colon
Treatment and Care for Ulcerative Colitis
In most cases, your doctor can treat ulcerative colitis with medication. There are multiple types of medication for the disease and the type your doctor recommends will depend on the specifics of your condition. They may recommend:
- Anti-inflammatory drugs, including corticosteroids
- Immune system suppressors
- Anti-diarrheal medications
- Pain relievers
- Iron supplements
In cases where medication doesn’t offer relief of ulcerative colitis, your doctor may recommend a proctocolectomy surgery, where the entire colon and rectum are removed. Your doctor may perform an ileal pouch anal anastomosis, where they remove your colon and form a pouch at the end of your small intestine to collect your stool. In cases where this isn’t possible, they create an opening in your abdomen where an attached bag collects the stool.