Ulcerative colitis is an inflammatory bowel disease characterized by inflammation and ulcers in your digestive tract. These issues affect the inner lining of your large intestine, as well as your rectum. While many health conditions develop suddenly, ulcerative colitis (UC) isn’t one of them. Rather, this issue tends to develop slowly over time. By the time many people realize they have the condition, they have been suffering from minor symptoms for months or even years.
As always, prevention and knowledge are key. Today, we’re sharing the ultimate guide to this condition to help you understand what it is and how it works.
What Causes Ulcerative Colitis?
Doctors have not determined a precise cause for this condition. Previously, they believed that excess stress and poor diet were leading causes, but more recently, it’s been discovered that while these factors can exacerbate UC, they do not actively catalyze it.
However, they have established a strong link between UC and a malfunctioning immune system.
If you have any type of virus or bacteria in your body, your immune system immediately gets to work, fighting it off to keep you healthy. While this response usually works efficiently, there can be instances where it’s abnormal. If this happens, your immune cells could actually turn on the cells in your digestive tract, attacking and weakening them.
Risk Factors of UC
Wondering if you could be at risk of developing UC? First, it’s important to understand that this disease doesn’t discriminate by gender or race. Both males and females appear to develop it at even rates, and it can occur in any race.
Likewise, it can occur at any age, although the most common age range for UC is between 30 years and 60 years. If you have a close family member who suffers from this condition, then you’re at a higher risk of developing it, too.
Key Symptoms and Warning Signs to Note
Could that stomachache be UC? It can be difficult to confirm a diagnosis without a medical review, but there are certain symptoms that are common with this condition.
The severity of your symptoms will depend on the level of inflammation in your body, as well as where the symptoms are originating. Again, these can start out minor and become more severe over time.
A few of the most common symptoms include:
- Abdominal pain
- Abdominal cramping
- Rectal bleeding
- Rectal pain
- Urgency to defecate
- Inability to defecate
If you suffer from UC, then you may also experience symptoms that don’t seem to be directly related to your digestive tract. For instance, you might feel fatigued or even feverish. You may also experience weight loss.
Different Types of UC
There isn’t a single type of UC. Instead, doctors will classify it in different ways according to its location in your body. Let’s take a look at the different types.
With ulcerative proctitis, inflammation occurs primarily in the area closest to your rectum. Most of the digestion-centric symptoms of UC may be absent in this case, and you might only experience rectal bleeding.
This condition also affects your rectum. However, the inflammation is also centralized in your sigmoid colon, or the lower portion of your colon.
In addition to rectal bleeding, you may also experience bloody diarrhea and abdominal pain. Those who suffer from proctosigmoiditis may find it difficult to move their bowels, even when they have the urgency to defecate.
With left-sided colitis, the inflammation originates in your rectum and travels upward through your sigmoid colon and your descending colon. The symptoms are similar to those caused by proctosigmoiditis. Additionally, you may also feel pain on the left side of your body.
Pancolitis is one of the most advanced forms of UC. It usually affects your entire colon.
If you suffer from this condition, then you may experience severe, bloody diarrhea, as well as strong abdominal pains. Usually, pancolitis is also accompanied by extreme fatigue and weight loss.
Receiving a UC Diagnosis
If the symptoms and conditions described above sound familiar, then you may be curious about how to receive an official UC diagnosis. First, it’s important to schedule a visit with your physician as soon as possible.
Most minor symptoms of UC are easy to treat and soothe. However, this isn’t always the case if they’re left untreated. That’s why it’s best to act early rather than wait for the issue to worsen.
At your physician’s visit, you’ll describe your symptoms in detail. Your doctor will use this information to gauge if they need to perform any additional tests. The only way to definitively diagnose this condition is to perform an endoscopic procedure (such as a colonoscopy) and analyze the issue biopsy, though there are other tests that your physician might require, including:
- Lab tests
- Blood tests
- Imaging scans (X-rays, CT scans)
If these tests do reveal that you have UC, then the next step is to find the exact location of the inflammation, which will determine the exact type of UC that you have. Once this data is all in place, your physician can recommend treatments to help improve your digestive health and overall quality of life.
Available UC Treatments
Currently, there isn’t a cure for UC. However, there are a few different treatment options that your physician may recommend.
If your case is mild to moderate, then you may be able to control your symptoms through anti-inflammatory drug therapy, using medications such as corticosteroids (prednisone, budesonide) or 5-aminosalicylates. They may also prescribe medications that suppress your immune system response, such as:
To manage your day-to-day symptoms, your physician may recommend other, over-the-counter medications including pain relievers, antidiarrheals, and antispasmodics to help relieve cramping.
In extreme cases, a surgical treatment called a proctocolectomy may be required. This treatment removes your entire colon and rectum and eliminates all signs of UC.
Learn How to Live With Ulcerative Colitis
Digestive issues can be challenging to pinpoint and diagnose, as there are so many potential root causes. However, the more you learn about ulcerative colitis, the easier it will be to discern if those are the symptoms you’re experiencing.
Be sure to share any concerns with your physician and follow their guidance on potential treatments. In the meantime, keep checking our blog for the trusted, relevant medical advice you need. If you have any questions, feel free to contact our team.