Ulcerative colitis, an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that causes chronic inflammation of the digestive tract, is characterized by abdominal pain and diarrhea. Ulcerative colitis usually affects only the innermost lining of your large intestine (colon) and rectum. It occurs only through continuous stretches of your colon.
Resources for Ulcerative Colitis
Crohn's & Colitis Foundation of America
Ulcerative colitis symptoms can vary, depending on the severity of inflammation and where it occurs. For these reasons, doctors often classify ulcerative colitis according to its location.
- Ulcerative proctitis. In this form of ulcerative colitis, inflammation is confined to the rectum and for some people, rectal bleeding may be the only sign of the disease. Others may have rectal pain, a feeling of urgency or an inability to move the bowels in spite of the urge to do so (tenesmus). This form of ulcerative colitis tends to be the mildest.
- Proctosigmoiditis. This form involves the rectum and the lower end of the colon, known as the sigmoid colon. Bloody diarrhea, abdominal cramps and pain and tenesmus are common problems associated with this form of the disease.
- Left-sided colitis. As the name suggests, inflammation extends from the rectum up the left side through the sigmoid and descending colon. Signs and symptoms include bloody diarrhea, abdominal cramping and pain on the left side, and unintended weight loss.
- Pancolitis. Affecting the entire colon, pancolitis causes bouts of bloody diarrhea that may be severe, abdominal cramps and pain, fatigue, and significant weight loss.
- Fulminant colitis. This rare, life-threatening form of colitis affects the entire colon and causes severe pain, profuse diarrhea and, sometimes, dehydration and shock. People with fulminant colitis are at risk of serious complications, including colon rupture and toxic megacolon, which occurs when the colon becomes severely distended.
No one is quite sure what triggers ulcerative colitis, but there's a consensus as to what doesn't. Researchers no longer believe that stress is the main culprit, although stress can often aggravate symptoms. Instead, current thinking focuses on the following possibilities:
- Immune system. Some scientists think a virus or bacterium may trigger ulcerative colitis. The digestive tract becomes inflamed when your immune system tries to fight off the invading microorganism (pathogen). It's also possible that inflammation may stem from an autoimmune reaction in which your body mounts an immune response even though no pathogen is present.
- Heredity. Because you're more likely to develop ulcerative colitis if you have a parent or sibling with the disease, scientists suspect that genetic makeup may play a contributing role.
Your doctor will likely diagnose ulcerative colitis only after ruling out other possible causes for your signs and symptoms, including Crohn's disease, ischemic colitis, infection, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), diverticulitis and colon cancer. To help confirm a diagnosis of ulcerative colitis, you may have one or more of the following tests and procedures:
- Blood tests
- Stool sample
- Flexible sigmoidoscopy
- Barium enema
- CT scan
Ulcerative colitis affects each person differently. Our team of experts design treatment plans to meet each person's specific needs. Recognizing that those needs often change over time, the most effective treatment is likely to change as well.
Prevea's Digestive Health team involves you in all treatment decisions to help you find the approach that provides the greatest benefit with the fewest side effects. Your doctor will thoroughly discuss any concerns that you may have about a particular treatment so that you can make the most informed decision possible.
Ways to Manage Ulcerative Colitis
- Changes in your diet and lifestyle may help control your symptoms and lengthen the time between flare-ups.
- Limit dairy products
- Experiment with fiber
- Avoid problem foods- These may include "gassy" foods, such as beans, cabbage and broccoli, raw fruit juices and fruits, popcorn, alcohol, caffeine, and carbonated beverages.
- Eat small meals.
- Drink plenty of liquids like water and avoid alcohol and beverages that contain caffeine and carbonation.
- Ask about multivitamins to help supply missing nutrients.
Although stress doesn't cause inflammatory bowel disease, it can make your signs and symptoms much worse and may trigger flare-ups. Stressful events can range from minor annoyances to a move, job loss or the death of a loved one. Although it's not always possible to avoid stress, you can learn ways to help manage it. Some of these include:
- Biofeedback. This stress-reduction technique helps you reduce muscle tension and slow your heart rate with the help of a feedback machine. You're then taught how to produce these changes yourself. The goal is to help you enter a relaxed state so that you can cope more easily with stress. Biofeedback is usually taught in hospitals and medical centers.
- Regular relaxation and breathing exercises like yoga and meditation
- Set aside time every day for any activity you find relaxing — listening to music, reading, playing computer games or just soaking in a warm bath.