With approximately 200,000 new cases diagnosed each year, ulcerative colitis is one of the two most common types of irritable bowel syndrome, the other type being Crohn’s disease. If left untreated, those who suffer from ulcerative colitis can experience chronic pain in the abdomen and joints, and experience a reduced quality of life due to the numerous symptoms that ulcerative colitis can cause.
What Is Ulcerative Colitis?
To put it simply, ulcerative colitis is an inflammation of the colon, which is also known as the lower intestine, and rectum, leading to sores known as ulcers. Often, only the lower part of the colon is affected, although some sufferers will have their entire colon affected, resulting in more severity and a wider spread of pain.
While most sufferers of ulcerative colitis are diagnosed with the disease before the age of 30, people of any age can be affected. Ulcerative colitis may be hereditary, as many sufferers have a family history of the disease. The cause itself is unclear, although many researchers believe it is caused by the immune system’s inability to tolerate normal bacteria in the intestinal tract.
What Are The Symptoms Of Ulcerative Colitis?
Symptoms of ulcerative colitis are known to come and go, with sufferers having no symptoms for months at a time before experiencing a flare up of many symptoms at once. 5-10% of sufferers experience constant symptoms that never go into remission.
The most common symptoms of ulcerative colitis are abdominal pain, frequent diarrhea, and rectal bleeding. Joint pain is another frequently reported symptom. Other common symptoms include fever and loss of appetite. Some sufferers are at risk of dehydration caused by chronic diarrhea, and the disease can lead to liver and eye problems.
How Is Ulcerative Colitis Treated?
First, ulcerative colitis must be diagnosed with a physical exam. Due to the similarity that the symptoms share with other common digestive diseases, such as Crohn’s disease and diverticulitis, a colonoscopy must be done and a biopsy taken. Blood tests and stool samples will help to finalize the diagnosis.
Currently, there is no known cure for ulcerative colitis, but various treatment options will allow you to manage your symptoms better. While flare ups may continue to occur, the symptoms will ideally be less severe.
For those who only experience mild symptoms, over-the-counter drugs for diarrhea may be suggested by your doctor. Those with more severe symptoms will most likely be given prescription drugs, such as steroid medications, which will lower your immune system’s response to the disease, thus reducing your symptoms.
Your doctor will most likely suggest changes to your diet, as many sufferers find that certain foods trigger the symptoms of ulcerative colitis. It is crucial that you maintain a healthy diet, as the disease can cause weight loss and a loss of nutrients.
Those who have very severe symptoms and who find that standard treatment options don’t relieve these symptoms may decide to have their colon surgically removed. This is the only way to completely eradicate the disease. It will also prevent colon cancer, as those who have suffered from the disease for several years have a greater risk of contracting colon cancer.
Ulcerative colitis can be very difficult to live with, as the symptoms can greatly impact your daily life. If you have any of these symptoms, talk to your doctor and schedule a physical exam. With all the treatment options available, you have a great chance of getting your life back under control.