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What is Ulcerative Colitis?
Ulcerative Colitis is a part of a larger grouping of conditions called inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). The condition causes uncomfortable inflammation of your digestive tract, namely your colon. Ulcerative colitis is different from the other form of IBD known as Crohn’s disease because it is limited to the colon, whereas Crohn’s disease is typically found at the end of the small intestine, the beginning of the colon, and may affect any part of the gastrointestinal tract from the mouth to the anus.
Also, ulcerative colitis only involves the inner lining of the colon, while Crohn’s Disease can affect the entirety of the bowel wall.
There are a few different types of ulcerative colitis, often classified by location:
The inflammation of the colon is confined to the rectum and tends to be the mildest type of ulcerative colitis. A common sign of having ulcerative proctitis is rectal bleeding.
Inflammation occurs in the rectum and the lower part of the colon and involves more serious symptoms such as abdominal pain and bloody diarrhea.
Inflammation involves more of the colon and involves serious symptoms including bloody diarrhea, and unintended weight loss.
Inflammation affects the entire colon and symptoms include severe bloody diarrhea, severe abdominal pain, and fatigue.
Acute severe ulcerative colitis
A rare form of ulcerative colitis affecting the entire colon and symptoms include severe pain, and inability to eat.
What Causes Ulcerative Colitis?
The exact cause of ulcerative colitis is still unknown. There are, however, some factors that seem to affect the onset of ulcerative colitis and its symptoms.
- Immune System- it is likely that internal bacteria or viruses will trigger ulcerative colitis. When bacteria or a virus enters your digestive tract your body activates your immune system to fight the virus or bacteria. When this happens, your body sends white blood cells to the colon and they end up attacking healthy tissue and cells. As a result, your colon or large intestine becomes inflamed.
- Genetics- you may inherit genes from your parents that put you at a higher risk of developing ulcerative colitis.
Some of the risk factors associated with having ulcerative colitis include:
- Age- ulcerative colitis most commonly develops before the age of 30
- Race or ethnicity- Caucasians and people of Ashkenazi Jewish descent are at higher risk of developing ulcerative colitis
- Family history- if a family member has ulcerative colitis, you are at higher risk of developing ulcerative colitis
What are the Main Symptoms of Ulcerative Colitis?
Most symptoms associated with ulcerative colitis develop gradually, and they range from mild to severe. They include:
If you ever experience blood in your stool contact your doctor immediately. You should see a gastroenterologist if you experience any of the above symptoms or combination of symptoms persistently.
What Are The Treatments For Ulcerative Colitis?
The main objectives of treatment for ulcerative colitis are to control the inflammation that triggers your symptoms, and then achieve remission of the disease. Additional treatment includes screening for cancer, because having ulcerative colitis puts you at higher risk for colon cancer.
There are five main categories of treatments for ulcerative colitis: antibiotics, anti-inflammatory drugs, immune system suppressors, nutrition, and medications that help you manage your symptoms.
Antibiotics can help destroy the bacteria that trigger the abnormal immune system response that causes inflammation.
Anti-inflammatory drugs that are used to treat ulcerative colitis have two categories; Corticosteroids and Oral 5-aminosalicylates. Corticosteroids help reduce inflammation in your body and can be used in combination with immune system suppressors. Oral 5-aminosalicylates can help reduce the inflammation in your body as well.
Immune system suppressors
Immune system suppressors help limit your body’s abnormal response to bacteria and viruses. Over time, this will help reduce the inflammation caused by this abnormal response. Some of the immunosuppressant drugs that your gastroenterologist might prescribe you include: azathioprine, infliximab, adalimumab, certolizumab, methotrexate, natalizumab, vedolizumab, and ustekinumab.
Your gastroenterologist might recommend a special diet be given at the beginning of your treatment to induce remission. Often times this diet is administered by a feeding tube or by having nutrients injected into a vein.
In severe cases, surgery may be required to remove part or the entire colon or rectum.
Medications For Symptoms
- Pain relievers
- Iron supplements
- Vitamin B-12 shots
- Calcium and vitamin D supplements