Ulcerative Colitis is a disease that affects the interior of the large intestine (the colon). The illness is chronic, and it involves an inflammation of the large intestine’s lining that causes sores and ulcers to open up and release a pus discharge. The illness can bring on extreme abdominal discomfort, as well as a frequent emptying out of the large intestine.
Ulcerative Colitis is an immune system disorder in which the body reacts to food by becoming inflamed and sending white blood cells into the colon. Treatment for the disease involves lifestyle changes, medications, and sometimes surgery. Unlike Crohn’s Disease, Ulcerative Colitis only affects the colon.
Main Symptoms of Ulcerative Colitis
People who suffer from Ulcerative Colitis may experience a variety of different symptoms, including:
- Bloody stool
- Cramps and pain in the abdomen
- Loose and urgent bowel movements
- Diarrhea that is bloody, frequent, and very painful
- Weight loss due to loss of appetite
- Frequent feelings of fatigue
- Inhibition of the body’s growth and development in children with Colitis
The condition is one that often comes and goes with long dormant periods. The on and off nature of the disease can make treatment quite complicated, as it may be hard for a doctor to ascertain whether or not the patient has been healed or is simply experiencing a period of reprieve.
Treatments for Ulcerative Colitis
There are several different approaches to treating Ulcerative Colitis. Some doctors prescribe a regime of medication to help control flare-ups of inflammation and to keep the illness in remission for longer periods.
While the condition can’t be cured by a change in diet, many physicians recommend that patients follow a blander diet during flare-ups, and avoid spicy and high fiber foods.
Diagnosing Ulcerative Colitis
When a doctor suspects that a patient may have Ulcerative Colitis, they will administer tests to rule out the possibility of other health issues. These tests may include blood tests (to check for anemia or infection) a stool sample (to check for the presence of white blood cells in the stool) or a colonoscopy to view the interior of the Colon. Other tests may include an X-ray or CT scan to examine the abdomen for any other serious problems.
In severe cases, surgery to remove the Colon and Rectum may be indicated for treatment, after which the patient would need to use a colostomy bag to get rid of waste. New techniques allow for removal of the colon while still preserving the bowels by creating a pouch inside the body, (attached to the small bowel) so that waste can be removed without the need for a colostomy bag.
Preparing for a Medical Exam
Patients who are preparing for an examination to ascertain whether they are suffering from Ulcerative Colitis should do some advance preparation. They need to find out whether or not there are any dietary or other restrictions to be aware of before the appointment, and they should take note of their symptoms in detail.
Patients also need to let their doctor know of any medications they are taking, including herbal supplements and vitamins. If a patient has been suffering from extreme stress, that should be noted as well. Family members can support the patient by helping them prepare for their appointment by going through a checklist of items they need to prepare in advance.
Patients may also want to have questions ready for their doctor, including asking about any concerns they have about treatment, and the possible prognosis for the condition.
Risk Factors for Ulcerative Colitis
Ulcerative Colitis affects men and women equally. There are some known factors that may increase the risk of developing the illness. These include:
- Age of the patient. Most people develop this disease before they are 30 years old, though it is still possible to develop it later in life, even after age 60.
- Ethnic group. Caucasian people have the highest risk of developing Ulcerative Colitis, and people of Ashkenazi Jewish origins have an even higher risk for the disease.
- Family history of the disease. If a close relative has had Ulcerative Colitis, the risk for developing the disease will be higher.
- Isotretoinin use. Isotretoinin (formerly called Accutane) is a medicine that is often prescribed for the treatment of severe cystic acne. Though there is not an absolutely clear link between the illness and use of this medication, some evidence does point to it as a causal factor.
Lifestyle changes and changes in diet are thought to be helpful in the prevention and maintenance of Ulcerative Colitis. People who are caring for patients with the illness can offer support by helping them to follow a diet that will limit painful flare-ups.
Some patients keep a “food diary” to help keep track of what they’ve eaten and how certain foods affect them. By ascertaining which foods need to be limited or avoided altogether, patients can take positive action to prevent their exposure to painful and uncomfortable episodes.
Medical professionals who treat patients with the disease recommend following these guidelines to control the illness by diet:
Keep High Fiber Foods to a Minimum
Some high-fiber foods like whole grains and fresh fruits and vegetables can be hard to digest. Cooking or steaming these foods can make them softer and easier for the body to deal with. Vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage can produce gas in the system, so they should generally be avoided.
Limit Coffee, Alcohol and Caffeine
These drinks can cause problems in the Colon as they are very stimulating. These should be limited, along with very spicy foods. Plenty of water will help with digestion, so patients should have several glasses a day.
Eat Smaller Meals
Smaller meals are recommended for patients with Ulcerative Colitis, as it’s easier to digest small amounts of food.
Practice Stress Reduction
Stress doesn’t cause Ulcerative Colitis, but stressful episodes can lead to flare-ups, which is why a low stress lifestyle is always recommended. Stress reducing activities, like a regular exercise regime, (including Yoga and walking) deep breathing and meditation practices can all bring stress down to manageable levels. People who have high-stress careers may want to consider major changes if there is a link between work problems and flare-ups of Colitis.
Ulcerative Colitis is an illness that must be managed carefully. Patients who are suffering from the condition should see their doctor regularly for checkups, and make any serious lifestyle changes necessary to control the disease.
With careful maintenance, the symptoms of Ulcerative Colitis can be tamed, so that those suffering from it can go on to lead productive lives with a minimum of painful symptoms.