Ulcerative Colitis

Ulcerative Colitis (UC), which is related to Crohn’s Disease, is an Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) that causes inflammation in the lining of the large intestine (colon) and rectum.

Causes

Like Crohn’s disease, the cause of UC is unknown, but it manifests in a loss of normal immune function in the bowel, which causes damage to the walls of the bowel over time. While UC’s causes are still unclear, it is believed that environment and genetic makeup play a pivotal role--20% of those diagnosed with UC have a relative that suffers from UC as well. UC can start in the rectal area and move to the large intestine over its course, or occur in both at the same time.

Symptoms

Generally speaking, only about half the people that suffer from UC display mild symptoms. The symptoms that present depend on which area is affected, and how much of the colon or large intestine is affected.

Symptoms for ulcerative colitis may include:

  • Rectal bleeding
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Stool urgency
  • Abdominal sounds (gurgling, splashing)
  • Blood or pus in stools
  • Fever
  • Gastrointestinal bleeding
  • Joint pain and swelling
  • Mouth sores

Testing

Patients that display the symptoms associated with UC should have a colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy performed. That way, the lining of the colon and rectum may be examined directly for signs of inflammation, and take biopsies for further testing. Since UC can increase the risk of colon cancer, it is recommended that UC patients be examed with a colonoscopy about 8-12 years after a UC diagnoses, and ever 1-2 years following that.

Treatment

Typically, the treatment of UC happens in two phases. The idea of the first phase is to help the patient go in remission, and get the symptoms under control. The goal of the second phase is to keep the symptoms and attacks from flaring back up again.

Dietary changes and lowering stress are a couple of ways to help manage certain symptoms of UC, which can go a long way in improving the overall quality of a patient’s life. In terms of medicine, there are several options, each depending on the severity of the patient’s illness:

  • Aminosalicylates, to assist in anti-inflammation.
  • Steroids, to help manage sudden attacks.
  • Immunomodulators, to help sustain remission.
  • Biologic agents, when other medications are unresponsive.

Surgery to remove the colon and rectum may also be an option, when treatment isn’t having an effect and there is a higher risk of cancer.

If you suspect you have symptoms of UC, please contact your physician. Read more about ulcerative colitis online at The American College of Gastroenterology.