Do you constantly have abdominal pain and diarrhea? If either happens too often, then it may not be just a case of abdominal cramps or good-food-gone-wrong. You might be suffering from Ulcerative Colitis and not know it.
What is Ulcerative colitis?
Ulcerative colitis is an inflammatory bowel disease characterized by chronic inflammation of the cells lining the rectum and colon (large intestine). This inflammation can lead to sores called ulcers, which may bleed and interfere with digestion. The most common symptoms are abdominal pain and bloody diarrhea which can be infrequent and mild to severe. Chronic inflammation in the colon can cause digestive problems that may result to weight loss, poor appetite and nausea. Others with ulcerative colitis may also have symptoms outside the digestive system which can include redness and itchiness of eyes, joint pains, skin and mouth sores, fatigue, anemia and frequent fevers.
The symptoms of Ulcerative Colitis (UC) is similar to another form of inflammatory bowel disease called Crohn’s, but unlike Crohn’s which can have manifestations in various sections of the digestive tract, the inflammation that occurs with UC only occur in the large intestine.
Though the cause of Ulcerative Colitis is unclear, but researchers suspect the immune system is involved. In people with UC, immune cells may react abnormally to bacteria in the digestive tract. It mostly affects people in developed nations, more common in urban areas than in the countryside, more often in northern climates than southern ones. In the U.S., about 700,000 people have the disease. It can occur at any age, but usually develops between the ages of 15 and 25. It can affect anyone of any ethinic origin but people of Eastern European Jewish descent have a higher risk than most. Ulcerative colitis tends to run in families and is more common in caucasians.
How is it diagnosed?
The most effective tool for diagnosis of Ulcerative Colitis is with the use of a tiny camera that is inserted into the rectum to provide an up-close look at the inside of the colon (a procedure called colonoscopy). A blood test can also be done, in which the amount of white blood cell (WBC) is checked. High WBC count is a sign of inflammation somewhere in the body. A stool test can also be used to rule out infection.
How can the symptoms be managed?
The symptoms of UC may come and go. During remission, a period can last for months or years, a patient may have no discomfort at all, but the symptoms can return. Not knowing when the symptoms could flare up can add to the stress of the disease and make it hard to come up with an effective treatment plan, but the condition can be managed. There are medications available to decrease the abnormal inflammation in the lining of the colon. These medications also relieve the symptoms of diarrhea, rectal bleeding, and abdominal pain. Despite advances in medication, 25%-40% of people with ulcerative colitis eventually need surgery- either to repair a tear or to remove a severely damaged colon. Some people who have their colon removed usually do not need an external pouch to collect waste, called a colostomy bag.
What are the complications that Ulcerative colitis can lead to?
Ulcerative colitis may have complications such as profuse bleeding (possibly caused by tears in the colon) and severe diarrhea that may require hospitalization. About 5% of people with ulcerative colitis develop colon cancer. The cancer risk increases the longer you have the disease and the more damaged the colon becomes.
Some patients with ulcerative colitis may also develop serious problems outside the colon, which can include osteoporosis, arthritis, kidney stones, and, in rare cases, liver disease, which researchers believe is a result from widespread inflammation triggered by the immune system.
What should you be extra careful about if you are diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis?
Since diarrhea is one of the symptoms of UC, avoid dairy, fatty foods, and too much fiber in your diet as these may trigger diarrhea). Look for links and try avoiding suspected triggers. If severe weight loss becomes an issue, you may need to work with a dietician to develop a high-calorie diet.
The symptoms of ulcerative colitis can make some patients wary of intimacy and can cause embarrassment over frequent trips to the restroom, along with abdominal pain, fatigue, and other mood killers. Medications such as steroids can also interfere with libido and body image. It can also cause sexual dysfunction and if it does become an issue, talk to your doctor, you shoudl immediately speak to your doctor. Though most people with ulcerative colitis can travel comfortably, your travel habits may get affected. Be extra careful in planning – use all resources (web sites, travel and hotel brochures) to find the restrooms in airports, train stations, or other large venues ahead of time. Carry extra underclothing and moist wipes. Bring enough medication to last the entire trip, along with copies of your prescriptions.