Ulcerative colitis, a form of inflammatory bowel disease, is a condition in which the lining of the large intestine and rectum become inflamed.
The cause of ulcerative colitis is unknown. People with this condition have problems with the immune system. However, it is not clear if immune problems cause this illness. Stress and certain foods can trigger symptoms, but they do not cause ulcerative colitis.
Ulcerative colitis may affect any age group. There are peaks at ages 15 to 30 and then again at ages 50 to 70.
The disease can begin in the rectal area. It may involve the entire large intestine over time. It may also start in the rectum and other parts of the large intestine at the same time.
Risk factors include a family history of ulcerative colitis or other autoimmune diseases, or Jewish ancestry.
Ulcerative Colitis Symptoms
The symptoms can be more or less severe. They may start slowly or suddenly. Half of people only have mild symptoms. Others have more severe attacks that occur more often. Many factors can lead to attacks.
Symptoms may include:
- Pain in the abdomen (belly area) and cramping
- A gurgling or splashing sound heard over the intestine
- Blood and possibly pus in the stools
- Diarrhea, from only a few episodes to very often
- Feeling that you need to pass stools, even though your bowels are already empty. It may involve straining, pain, and cramping (tenesmus).
- Weight loss
- Joint pain and swelling
- Mouth sores (ulcers)
- Nausea and vomiting
- Skin lumps or ulcers
Ulcerative Colitis Diagnosis
Colonoscopy with biopsy is most often used to diagnose ulcerative colitis. Colonoscopy is also used to screen people with ulcerative colitis for colon cancer.
Other tests that may be done to help diagnose this condition include:
- Barium enema
- Complete blood count (CBC)
- C-reactive protein (CRP)
- Erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR)
Ulcerative Colitis Treatment
The goals of treatment are to:
- Control the acute attacks
- Prevent repeated attacks
- Help the colon heal
During a severe episode, you may need to be treated in the hospital for severe attacks. Your doctor may prescribe corticosteroids. You may be given nutrients through a vein (IV line).
Diet and Nutrition
Certain types of foods may worsen diarrhea and gas symptoms. This problem may be more severe during times of active disease. Diet suggestions include:
- Eat small amounts of food throughout the day.
- Drink plenty of water (drink small amounts throughout the day).
- Avoid high-fiber foods (bran, beans, nuts, seeds, and popcorn).
- Avoid fatty, greasy or fried foods and sauces (butter, margarine, and heavy cream).
- Limit milk products if you are lactose intolerant. Dairy products are a good source of protein and calcium.
You may feel worried, embarrassed, or even sad or depressed about having a bowel accident. Other stressful events in your life, such as moving, or losing a job or a loved one can cause worsening of digestive problems.
Ask your health care provider for tips on your to manage your stress.
Medicines that may be used to decrease the number of attacks include:
- 5-aminosalicylates such as mesalamine or sulfasalazine, which can help control moderate symptoms. Some forms of the drug are taken by mouth; others must be inserted into the rectum.
- Medicines to quiet the immune system.
- Corticosteroids such as prednisone. They may be taken by mouth during a flare-up or inserted into the rectum.
- Biologic therapy, if you do not respond to other drugs.
- Acetaminophen (Tylenol) may help relieve mild pain. Avoid drugs such as aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn). These can make your symptoms worse.
Surgery to remove the colon will cure ulcerative colitis and removes the threat of colon cancer. You may need surgery if you have:
- Colitis that does not respond to complete medical therapy
- Changes in the lining of the colon that can lead to cancer
- Severe problems, such as rupture of the colon, severe bleeding, or toxic megacolon
Most of the time, the entire colon, including the rectum, is removed. After surgery, you may have:
- An opening in your belly called the stoma (ileostomy). Stool will drain out through this opening.
- A procedure that connects the small intestine to the anus to gain more normal bowel function.