What Is Ulcerative Colitis?
colitis is an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). IBD comprises a group of
diseases that affect the gastrointestinal tract. Ulcerative colitis occurs when
the lining of the large intestine (colon or bowel) and the rectum become
inflamed. This inflammation produces tiny sores called ulcers on the lining of
the colon. It usually begins in the rectum and spreads upward. It rarely
affects the small intestine beyond the lower portion.
inflammation causes the bowel to move its contents rapidly and empty
frequently. As cells on the surface of the lining of the bowel die, ulcers
form. The ulcers may cause bleeding and discharge of mucus and pus.
affects people of all ages. Symptoms tend to develop when people are between
the ages of 15 and 30, or between the ages of 50 and 70.
What Causes Ulcerative Colitis?
The cause of
this condition is unknown. Researchers no longer believe that stress is the
cause. Today, research focuses on the immune system and heredity for possible
Who Is at Risk for
with ulcerative colitis don’t have a family history of the condition. However,
you’re more likely to develop it if a close family member also has the
colitis can develop in a person of any race, but it is more common in
Caucasians. According to the Mayo Clinic, if you are an Ashkenazi Jew you
have a greater chance of developing the condition than most other groups.
show a possible link between the use of the drug isotretinoin (Accutane,
Amnesteem, Claravis, or Sotret) and ulcerative colitis. Isotretinoin treats
What Are the Symptoms of
seriousness of symptoms varies among affected people. According to Cedars-Sinai, about 50 percent of people
diagnosed with ulcerative colitis have mild symptoms. However, symptoms
can be severe. Common symptoms of ulcerative colitis include:
colitis may cause additional symptoms such as:
Complications of Ulcerative
colitis increases your risk of colon cancer. Your doctor will perform a
colonoscopy and check for cancer when you receive your diagnosis. It’s
important to schedule a follow-up screening eight to 12 months after your
doctor diagnoses ulcerative colitis. This helps lower your risk of colon
cancer. Repeat screenings every one to two years are needed thereafter.
Follow-up screenings can detect precancerous cells early.
of ulcerative colitis include:
of the intestinal wall
megacolon (rapidly swelling colon)
of skin, joints, and eyes
in the colon
spondylitis (inflammation of joints between the spinal bones)
How Is Ulcerative Colitis
tests can help your doctor diagnose ulcerative colitis. This disorder mimics
other bowel diseases such as Crohn’s disease. Your doctor will run multiple
tests to rule out other conditions. Tests to diagnose ulcerative colitis
test: a doctor examines your stool for blood, bacteria, and parasites
a doctor uses a flexible tube to examine the stomach, esophagus, and small
diagnostic test that involves insertion of a long, flexible tube into the
rectum to examine the inside of the colon
a surgeon removes a tissue sample from the colon
enema: X-rays are taken of your colon and rectum, using barium to provide
A blood test
also helps diagnose ulcerative colitis. This test looks for signs of anemia
(low blood count). A blood test also checks for a high level of the C-reactive
protein and a high sedimentation rate. Both are indicators of inflammation in
What Are the Treatments for
colitis is a chronic condition. Treatment usually involves drug therapy or
surgery. The goal of treatment is to reduce the inflammation that causes your
may prescribe a medication to reduce inflammation and swelling. These types of
medications include sulfasalazine (Azulfidine), mesalamine (Asacol and Lialda),
balsalazide (Colazal), and olsalazine (Dipentum). Reducing inflammation will
help alleviate abdominal cramps and diarrhea. More serious cases may need
corticosteroids, antibiotics, or medication to suppress immune function.
symptoms are severe, you will need to be hospitalized to correct the effects of
dehydration and malnutrition that diarrhea causes.
Surgery is necessary
when there is massive bleeding, chronic and debilitating symptoms, perforation
of your colon, or if there is a risk of cancer. A barium enema and a
colonoscopy can detect these serious problems.
options include proctocolectomy
with ileostomy (the most common surgical treatment) and ileoanal anastomosis.
with ileostomy involves the removal of the entire colon and rectum. A surgeon
will make a small opening in the abdominal wall through which the tip of the
lower small intestine (the ileum) is brought to the skin’s surface. Waste will
drain through the opening into a bag.
anastomosis, a surgeon removes the diseased part of the colon but the outer
muscles of the rectum remain. Then they attach the ileum inside the rectum and form
a small pouch. After this surgery, an individual is able to pass feces through
the rectum. Bowel movements will be more frequent and watery than normal.
How Can I Prevent
There is no
solid evidence that what you eat can affect your condition. You may find that
certain foods aggravate your symptoms when you have a flare-up. Practices that may
small amounts of water throughout the day
smaller meals throughout the day
your intake of high-fiber foods
your intake of milk if you’re lactose intolerant (unable to digest lactose)
Also, ask a
dietician if you should take a multivitamin.
What Is the Long-Term
There is no
known cure for ulcerative colitis. If you have this condition, your doctor will
need to monitor you and you will need to carefully follow your treatment plan
throughout your life.