Ulcerative colitis creates inflammation and ulcers (sores) in the digestive tract. Symptoms tend to be more apparent over time as the disease progresses. The innermost lining of the colon and rectum are affected, creating life-threatening issues if not treated in time.
Ulcerative colitis is classified according to its location:
- Ulcerative proctitis – Inflammation is closest to the rectum.
- Proctosigmoiditis – Inflammation involves the rectum and sigmoid colon (lower end of colon).
- Left-sided colitis – Inflammation extends from rectum up through sigmoid and descending colon.
- Pancolitis – Affects the entire colon.
Diet and stress have been thought to be the primary cause of ulcerative colitis, but an exact cause is unknown. In most cases, a family history of ulcerative colitis will contribute to susceptibility. Another risk factor is race. Caucasians have the highest risk of disease, and those of Ashkenazi Jewish descent have an even higher risk.
Symptoms may vary depending on the severity of the inflammation and where it occurs. Symptoms may include:
- Abdominal pain/cramps
- Rectal pain/bleeding
- Diarrhea (potentially with blood or pus)
- Urgency to defecate or inability despite urgency
- Weight loss
Our physicians run a series of tests since ulcerative colitis can blend with other inflammatory bowels diseases. After ruling out other possibilities, the following procedures may be performed to firmly diagnose:
The most common diagnostic procedure is a colonoscopy because it allows the doctor to view the entire colon and obtain tissue samples.
Lifestyle changes can successfully reduce ulcerative colitis symptoms. These include:
- Limit fiber, dairy products, spicy foods
- Decrease alcohol and caffeine intake
- Eat smaller meals
- Increase hydration with water or other electrolyte-rich beverages
- Develop consistent exercise patterns
Actual treatment options are available for ulcerative colitis that relieve symptoms and foster a normal life. However, there is no cure. Treatments may include:
- Medication – Antibiotics, anti-diarrheal medications, and pain relievers help control infection and pain and calm symptoms.
- Corticosteroids and other Anti-inflammatory Drugs – These are commonly reserved for moderate to severe ulcerative colitis that has not responded to other treatments. They help with inflammation of the colon and rectum.
- Surgery – This is the last step when it is the only method that will work. The most common surgery is a proctocolectomy that removes the entire colon and rectum. However, we prefer a less invasive approach, J-Pouch Surgery. Also called IPAA (ileal pouch-anal anastomosis), it is most often employed to treat chronic ulcerative colitis. Ultimately, this surgery enables the patient to eliminate waste normally after removal of the entire large intestine.