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What is ulcerative colitis?
Ulcerative colitis is a part of a larger grouping of conditions called inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). The condition causes uncomfortable inflammation and ulcerations within your gastrointestinal (GI) tract, most often the colon. Ulcerative colitis differs from Crohn's disease (the other form of IBD) because it is limited to the colon. Crohn's disease, on the other hand, is typically found at the end of the small bowel and beginning of the colon but can affect any part of the GI tract from the mouth to the anus. In addition, ulcerative colitis only involves the inner lining of the colon, while Crohn’s disease can affect the entirety of the bowel wall.
Patients diagnosed with ulcerative colitis often experience uncomfortable GI symptoms that interfere with their day-to-day lives. At GI Alliance, our board-certified gastroenterologists routinely diagnose and treat ulcerative colitis, and work closely with patients to help provide relief from the symptoms it causes. To get help for ulcerative colitis, please contact a GI Alliance office in your community.
Are there different types of ulcerative colitis?
There are a few different types of ulcerative colitis, which are often classified by location:
Ulcerative proctitis: The inflammation of the colon is confined to the rectum and tends to be the mildest type of ulcerative colitis. A common sign of having ulcerative proctitis is rectal bleeding.
Left-sided colitis: Inflammation is more widespread throughout the colon and can affect more than the rectum but is limited to all or part of the sigmoid and descending colon. It often results in serious symptoms, including bloody diarrhea and unintended weight loss.
Pancolitis: This condition is also known as extensive colitis and may affect the entire colon. Symptoms may include severe bloody diarrhea, severe abdominal pain, and fatigue.
Acute severe ulcerative colitis: This is a rare form of ulcerative colitis that affects the entire colon. Its symptoms include severe pain and the inability to eat. The condition often requires hospitalization and carries an increased risk of surgery.
What causes ulcerative colitis?
The exact cause of ulcerative colitis remains unknown. However, there are certain factors that seem to heighten the onset of ulcerative colitis and its symptoms.
- Genetics: You might inherit genes from your parents that elevate your risk of developing ulcerative colitis.
- Immune system: It is likely that internal bacteria or viruses will trigger the onset of ulcerative colitis. When bacteria or a virus enters your digestive tract, your body activates your immune system to fight the virus or bacteria. When this happens, your body sends white blood cells to the colon and they end up attacking healthy tissue and cells. As a result, your colon, or large intestine becomes inflamed.
Risk Factors for Ulcerative Colitis
Some of the risk factors associated with having ulcerative colitis include:
- Age: Ulcerative colitis most commonly develops before the age of 30.
- Race or ethnicity: Caucasians and people of Ashkenazi Jewish descent are at higher risk of developing ulcerative colitis, but the condition can impact anyone.
- Family history: If a family member has ulcerative colitis, you have an increased risk of developing the disease.
What are the symptoms of ulcerative colitis?
Most symptoms associated with ulcerative colitis develop gradually, and they range from mild to severe. Symptoms of ulcerative colitis commonly include:
- Blood in the stool
- Diarrhea with pus or blood
- Rectal pain
- Abdominal pain
- Stomach cramps
- Mouth sores
- Sudden weight loss
- Loss of normal menstrual cycle
- Pain or drainage near or around the anus
If you ever notice blood in your stool, please contact your physician immediately. You should see a gastroenterologist if you experience any of the above symptoms or a combination of symptoms on a persistent basis. The board-certified gastroenterologists at GI Alliance offer skilled care for ulcerative colitis and can help treat and manage these concerns.
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How is ulcerative colitis treated?
The main objectives of ulcerative colitis treatments at GI Alliance are to control the inflammation that initiates your symptoms and then achieve remission of the disease. Additional treatment includes screening for cancer, as having ulcerative colitis puts you at higher risk for developing colon cancer. The primary categories of ulcerative colitis treatments are as follows:
Antibiotics: Antibiotics can help destroy bacteria known to cause the abnormal immune system response that leads to inflammation. These are not a mainstay of therapy but may be used in conjunction with other therapies.
Anti-inflammatory drugs: Anti-inflammatory medications used to treat ulcerative colitis are corticosteroids and oral 5-aminosalicylates. Corticosteroids help decrease inflammation in your body and can be administered along with immune system suppressors. Oral 5-aminosalicylates can also work to reduce inflammation in your body.
Long-term anti-inflammatory therapies: These therapies address the body’s abnormal immune response to viruses and bacteria. The immunosuppressant medications your gastroenterologist might prescribe include tofacitinib, infliximab, adalimumab, azathioprine, certolizumab, ustekinumab, natalizumab, vedolizumab, and methotrexate.
Additional medications and supplements may be recommended to help control and manage ulcerative colitis symptoms. These may include:
- Vitamin B-12 shots
- Iron supplements
- Calcium and vitamin D supplements
Nutrition and diet: Your GI specialist may recommend a special diet to help relieve symptoms and aid in inducing remission.
Surgery: In severe cases, surgery may be required to remove a portion of, or the entire, colon or rectum.
Ulcerative Colitis FAQs
Can ulcerative colitis be cured?
At the present time, there is no cure for this disorder. Medication can be used to help control ulcerative colitis and its symptoms, but it won’t cure the condition. It can, however, help you achieve and remain in disease remission.
Is ulcerative colitis caused by diet?
A link between diet and a direct cause of this GI disorder has not been determined. However, certain dietary factors may increase the risk of getting ulcerative colitis. This can include diets high in fats, sugar, and refined carbs and those low in fruits, vegetables, and fiber.
Who is qualified to diagnose ulcerative colitis?
Your gastrointestinal troubles will likely prompt you to visit your primary care physician. However, if your doctor thinks you could have ulcerative colitis, they may refer you to a digestive health specialist like those at GI Alliance. It can be helpful to consult a provider specializing in the digestive system.
What might help me stay in remission?
If you have obtained remission for your ulcerative colitis, you probably will do anything you can to remain symptom-free. Factors to be mindful of while in remission include:
- Stress: Stress may cause symptoms to return. Getting quality sleep, exercising regularly, and managing stress can minimize your chances of symptom recurrence.
- Medications: For fever or pain, you might take acetaminophen like Tylenol® as opposed to an NSAID (such as Motrin® or Advil®). Acetaminophen may be less likely to ignite symptoms. Speak with your doctor for more information.
- Medication change: If you notice your current medications seem to trigger symptoms, get in touch with our gastroenterologists. We might recommend changing your medication to something less likely to cause a flare-up.
Find help for ulcerative colitis
Ulcerative colitis can impact your general comfort and digestive health. With experienced care, however, you can manage the condition and improve your quality of life. Whether you are experiencing the initial symptoms or dealing with ulcerative colitis flare-ups after remission, the gastroenterologists at GI Alliance offer personalized treatment options to help you find relief. To find an ulcerative colitis specialist near you, please contact GI Alliance today.
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